2-Minute Reviews of the 2018 Best Picture Nominees

“Call Me By Your Name”

Director: Luca Guadagnino


One of the most talked about films of the year, “Call Me By Your Name” tells the story of Elio (Timothée Chalamet), a 17-year-old Jewish-Italian boy who begins a sexual and emotional affair with Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American doctoral student, during the latter’s six week stint as his father’s assistant. Through sparing non-diegetic music, breathtaking landscapes of northern Italy and simple cinematography, the film achieves a rare honesty and vulnerability that pulls the audience right into its patiently unfolding narrative. Still, “Call Me By Your Name” breaks no new ground, telling the story of two upper class, white, cis men who have the time and safety to explore their desires (the way in which they do so must also be paid attention to as Elio is underaged and each man coerces the other at some point). Comparisons to “Moonlight” are undeserved, considering there are no characters of color in the entire film.

“Darkest Hour”

Director: Joe Wright


“Darkest Hour” by director Joe Wright stars a transformed Gary Oldman in the role of historical titan Winston Churchill. The film chronicles Churchill’s appointment as prime minister on the eve of World War II. Unlike this year’s other Oscar-nominated World War II film, “Dunkirk,” “Darkest Hour” takes place largely behind the closed doors of Parliament, the War Room, and 10 Downing St. In these spaces, language, rather than artillery, is the weapon of choice. Oldman’s portrayal of Churchill, which has also garnered him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, departs somewhat from previous depictions of the figure. Instead of the roaring political lion that dominates historical lore, “Darkest Hour” presents Churchill as a man well into his 60s and dogged by his career of failed political endeavors. Rather than undermine his presence, these details give Churchill a new kind of strength ----— one grounded in humility and awareness. It’s refreshing to see a leader thoroughly considering the consequences of his choices, even if only onscreen.


Director: Christopher Nolan


Auteur filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s wartime drama, “Dunkirk” details the true story of the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II with a non-linear narrative and star-studded ensemble cast. It is, understandably, hard to watch. The film makes no attempt to soften the brutal realities of its subject matter as characters you root for are gunned down or blown up. Less attentive filmgoers may find the power of  the film’s message somewhat muddled by the unconventional narrative style, but “Dunkirk” may be deserving of a second watch to experience Nolan’s intended impact. Its historical setting does not excuse its overwhelmingly white cast, which includes a few of Nolan’s favorites (Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy) as well as former One Direction star Harry Styles. In the end, it may cripple itself with its ambitious style and unambitious casting.

"Get Out"

Director: Jordan Peele


Breaking barriers in the Academy, Jordan Peele’s horror film “Get Out” makes its mark on four nominee lists: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and the lead acting categories. With the boyfriend meeting the parents premise turning into a sinister entrapment. While Peele uses classic scary movie tropes that horror fans love, he also offers a terrifying and very real narrative of black bodies being used for white entertainment. “Get Out” is celebrated as a thriller for the black horror lover, a film that doesn’t kill off the only person of color (disregarding the alternate ending) and a main character that has the sense to recognize that things are not going in their favor. This film has already achieved honor by being taught on college campuses around the U.S. It’s been awhile since a horror film has been given so much consideration by the Oscars. However, “Get Out” is a multilayered film broaching the subjects of racism and white liberalism that is prevalent in today’s society. It is supposed to be a blunt, straightforward message that racism isn’t dead even if we’ve had a black president. Whether it wins or not, “Get Out” will be remembered for its tenacity to make a statement about the current face of racism in America.

“The Shape of Water”

Director: Guillermo Del Toro


With 13 Oscar nominations, Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is a major contender for Best Picture. This romantic retelling of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” is more than a love story between a human and an amphibian man, and features plenty of hints to the political climate of  1960s America and today. “The Shape of Water” encompasses the feeling of otherness in each of its characters in a way that can attract any audience. Set during a time when difference was not celebrated, the characters in this film show that being different isn’t wrong. And while the film is visually striking — there are many examples of seemingly cliché lines that make this serious drama sound more like a romantic comedy. The dialogue is sparse. The American Sign Language used by Eliza (Sally Hawkins), the mute main character, is charmingly translated, suggesting that verbal communication is not as important as our society imagines. From costume design, use of lights and color and overall message of love, this film is exquisite and deserves every nomination.   

“Lady Bird”

Director: Greta Gerwig


In her directorial debut, Greta Gerwig uses millennial nostalgia to appeal to all audiences and the Academy has taken notice. Christine “Lady Bird” MacPherson, played by the unstoppable Saoirse Ronan, is a typical teenage girl growing up in Sacramento with dreams far more fabulous than her modest family. Sun-bleached, low budget visuals take you to typical indie movie territory but there is something deeper to this film. We see Lady Bird’s struggles with her sexual and class identities as well as friendships and home life. Ironically, the best part about Lady Bird is her normalcy. She doesn’t have any outstanding talents or popularity, but her being an average girl from an average town with an average family makes you root for her and her larger-than-life  dreams. Lady Bird could be seen as unlikeable in the same way you might look back on your high school years and cringe. However, you can look back on those years with a fuzzy reminiscence of which this film has no shortage. In the tradition of the teenage movie, “Lady Bird” features is a brooding heartthrob (“Call Me by Your Name”’s Timothée Chalamet), tacky school dances and a nagging yet loving mom (played by “Roseanne”’s Laurie Metcalfe). The film is as much of an emotional roller coaster as adolescence itself.  

“Phantom Thread”

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson


A beautiful romance of film and fashion, “Phantom Thread,” written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “Inherent Vice”), takes gothic romance to another level. Set in 1950s London, legendary method actor Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York,” “Lincoln”) plays dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock, whose larger-than-life reputation dressing the London elite has led to a successful yet seemingly lonely life. This all changes when he meets the foil to his antagonizing droll in waitress Alma (“Vicky Krieps,” “Hanna”), who steals the show as Woodcock’s lover and muse. The movie can feel emotionally taxing as we see all of Reynolds’ personal turmoils with love and work while Alma’s confidence and public profile soar to new heights. These jarring moments, however, are salved by Anderson’s attention to detail and cinematography. The film is filled with lush imagery as silky as the gowns Woodcock designs. Initially, the characters were too unlikable and smug, as if there is a storyline you are too mainstream to understand. However, you begin to feel the romantic nature to every interaction in the film, and fall for not only Reynolds but also for Alma and his sister/business partner Cyril, which is noteworthy because the relationship between older siblings is something films seldom explore. Said to be the last film in the career of Day Lewis, no other film could say farewell with more elegance.

“The Post”

Director: Steven Spielberg


With the cinematic force of Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, “The Post” promised a dramatic, show-stopping film sure to snap up nominations and awards. The Vietnam War is taking place and Nixon is in the White House when the New York Times prints excerpts from the Pentagon Papers, documents detailing the government’s deception of the Vietnam War to the public. When the New York Times is barred by Nixon from printing more of the documents, The Washington Post, owned by Katharine Graham (Streep) with Editor-in-Chief Ben Bradlee (Hanks), step in to continue publishing the Pentagon Papers. The result is a fight for freedom of speech as the two newspapers are taken to court by the Nixon administration. The film, although not entirely historically accurate, relays an extremely relevant and important message in today’s political climate. The true story is made more impressive with how the film portrays Graham and The Washington Post.  At first it is difficult to watch Streep in a timid, submissive role as Graham struggles to find her footing in the publishing world, but as the film progresses Graham blossoms into an assertive leader and Streep delivers another stellar performance. The film has Spielberg’s touch as the cinematography and score are effortlessly melded together to mimic the rhythmic mechanics of an old printing press. “The Post” is not without fault, but it does deliver on its promise to produce an inspiring and well-told story of the First Amendment’s importance.         

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Director: Martin McDonagh


Considered a season frontrunner, “Three Billboards” follows Mildred Hayes’ (Frances McDormand) battle against her small town’s police department after she rents three billboards to draw attention to her daughter’s unsolved murder. Diversely categorized as a crime, comedy and drama film, “Three Billboards” covers all of its bases: it makes you laugh, pulls on your heartstrings and has you on the edge of your seat. McDormand leads an immensely talented cast with a nuanced performance as Mildred. The score also stands out and drives home the impact of one emotional moment after another. By the time the film reaches its climax, you will be biting your nails and holding back tears. “Three Billboards,” like most if not all of its fellow nominees, has faced backlash recently, namely for its uncomfortably forgiving portrayal of a racist police officer as well as its rigid typecasting of Peter Dinklage based on his dwarfism. Its compositional excellence must be considered alongside these issues rather than in spite or because of them.