The Final Cut: A Closer Look At The 2018 Oscar Nominations For Best Picture, Part 3 of 3
Awards season is finally upon us and, following a remarkably strong year of film production, the buzz surrounding the Oscars seems to be constant. Critics are incessantly praising their picks, debates with friends are ensuing and fans are defending their choices to the end. With such extraordinary films all being released in the same year, it is only logical that it would come to this. Should we choose the coming-of-age film, or the historical drama? The social critique, or the fantasy world? And so, with these tiffs ensuing more and more each day, we at ST.ART decided to take action. During the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, each of the films nominated for the 'Best Picture' category shall be discussed by an avid proponent who believes it should win the prestigious award.
The question is simple, why should your film win the Oscar for 'Best Picture'?
Steven Spielberg's The Post
Written by Mercedes Weidmer
With several of this year’s awards already underway and the Oscars fast approaching, the question of what makes an Oscar film hangs in the air. Every year the top stars and filmmakers gather on the red carpet, and us plebeians gather in front of our televisions to see which films reach the highest acclaim in the business: the golden man, the Academy Award, the Oscar. The films nominated for Best Picture this year are, as ever, superb. From Guillermo Del Toro’s latest bizarre vision, to Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, and Christopher Nolan’s powerful war epic, they all speak to our history, culture, and imagination. There is one film however that rings particularly true to today’s climate ridden with political disaster, social scandal, political protests and so so much more: Steven Spielberg’s The Post, starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and an excellent supporting cast of Sarah Paulson, Alison Brie, Tracey Letts, Matthew Rhys, to name but a few.
With Donald Trump’s presidency rocking the nation and the world, the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and the responding Time’s Up and MeToo movements sending shock waves across all platforms, the political climate has been running high. When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Meryl Streep was among the first to publicly express dissatisfaction and resistance to the administration, starting a tidal wave of similarly political and incendiary speeches at award shows since. Her speech championed the press, for bringing our leaders to task, for “when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose”.
It seems fitting then that her latest role is in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, as Katherine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post and the first female publisher of a major American newspaper. Graham took over the newspaper after her husband took his own life in 1963, and manages the ship in the turbulent decades of the 60s and 70s, until her death in 2001. Graham, and her managing editor Ben Bradlee (played by Tom Hanks) are faced with the leak of The Pentagon Papers, state files which reveal shocking revelations surrounding government involvement in the Vietnam War, and the secrecy which kept the public from the truth for years. The paper faces threat of imprisonment, betrayal of colleagues, and their integrity as members of the press. At its core, the film is about what Hanks described as “the most basic tenant of American freedom; Freedom of the Press to print the truth”, an issue which feels particularly relevant today, worldwide.
Spielberg offers an intimate portrait of those involved in this historical breakthrough, revealing the relationships and personal dynamics which make the story all the more complicated, and well, human. Retrospectively we know the Papers were released, the journalists remained free, and good prevailed, but within the parameters of the narrative these decisions seem not so simple; friends must betray friends, Graham must fight for her respect and authority amongst a patriarchal industry and society, and all undergo a crisis of faith in a post-Camelot America where the government can no longer be trusted to go unchecked.
Fascinating, gripping, and timely, The Post is a Spielberg classic, shedding light on a little-known but important story in the history of the press and freedom of speech.
One cannot predict whether it will win the Oscar, but it remains an important film to watch all the same, especially this year.
Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird
Written by Camilla Duke
The 2018 Oscar nominations for Best Picture include films that are on their way to becoming cultural touchstones, films by acclaimed directors, and films with celebrated cinematography, effects, and acting. It would be easy to look over Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, a coming-of-age story starring Saoirse Ronan. At first glance, the story seems trite at best: a teenage girl with a rebellious streak, and no better object for her attitude than her hard-working mother. A loving but awkward best friend, whom she abandons for the popular crowd but ultimately returns to. A dream of leaving her nowhere hometown for the Big Apple. Top it off with mediocre high school theatre, disappointing first-time sex, and Catholic school nuns, and you’ve got yourself the same old, same old story about growing up.
But Lady Bird is different. In her directorial debut, Greta Gerwig captures something about teenage girlhood that has managed to escape her foremothers. Full disclosure, I am a Catholic girls’ school alumna and a recovering theatre kid, so it’s no surprise that Lady Bird resonated with me. That being said, I’ve seen plenty of films where characters looked and felt like me, and none of them left me feeling quite like I did after seeing Lady Bird. Much has been written on the intimacy of female friendships, and Ronan and Beanie Feldstein’s on-screen friendship is sure to induce nostalgia in anyone who’s been lucky enough to have a best friend. Similarly, Ronan’s relationship with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf, perfectly encapsulates the depth and nuance of relationships between parents and their teenage children. When Ronan’s titular character finally leaves for college, the weight of her parents’ love and sacrifice hits her. In high school, she was able to appreciate her father, with whom she shared an affectionate relationship, but it takes moving across the country for her to grapple with the love between her and her mother. Laurie Metcalf mirrors this performance with great humanity, showing how a parent can love her child but not know quite how to love her child as she grows up. This journey towards mutual appreciation has been depicted many times, but the simplicity and sincerity of Ronan and Metcalf’s performances allow the viewer to feel the full force of their love and struggle.
Although Lady Bird comparatively flies under the radar, Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age story deserves its place among its peers in the 2018 Oscar nominations. The candour of the script, the brilliant acting, and the nostalgic touches of teenagehood allow the viewer to grow with Lady Bird, and for that, I applaud Gerwig, Ronan, Metcalf, and the whole cast and crew.
Luca Guadagnino's Call By Your Name
Written by Violet Chaudoir
Year by year movies are given more obscene and grandiose budgets, their posters crammed with star-studded celebrity names and now, astoundingly, singers and models are joining Hollywood casts. In this climate the notion of simplicity is lost. However it is this quality, the elegance and quietness of the simple which is what I believe Call Me By Your Name insists upon. A small cast, a limited location and a film stripped of special effects. Call Me By Your Name relies on a well-worn, simple premise - two men unearthing and exploring new sensations and emotions on a hot summers day - and yet Guadagnino achieves this with a touch of the sublime. While simple, it is by no means forgettable, for this film will resonate with you long after its 2 hours and 12 minutes are over, its intensity and devastating ending lingering in your mind hours on.
To express the beauty of this movie and the romance which lies within, it is best to compare it with iconography which resides in the movie itself, sculpture. At its best such artwork will gracefully depict the human condition, the softness and tension of its movements and actions. If great artistic skill has crafted the artwork, the figure should resemble life. While a statue is capable of standing the test of time, it also is undeniably fragile and if shattered the noise would be immense, the loss devastating.
Call Me By Your Name acts also as an examination of the human condition. The film follows Elio, a youthful but bright 17-year old who holidays in Italy with his parents, whose immaturity and jealousy openly conflicts with Oliver, a visiting 24-year old scholar. Their relationship is strained as their positions as host and guest, younger and older, boy and man collide, distancing the two. Yet the men still endure and engage in several acts of power-play, each insisting on acting aloof, not breaking the visage of the sexually confident, intellectually talented, intimidating male. Gradually however they align into an uneasy but close pairing. The relationship itself is built on conversation, chatter which touches on art, music, classical studies and literature. Their words are both delicate and subtle, as each member only relents to the other in small fractions, unwilling to unveil the truth of their affection for fear of embarrassment. Sculptures require artistry. James Ivory's script, built on André Aciman's novel of the same name, is unassuming (I highly recommend giving the book a read, although it is very different, you are completely immersed into Elio's perspective and it makes for a much more hilarious read). Lofty, poetic and exposing declarations of adoration aren’t present in the movie, instead, the film achieves something greater. On multiple occasions the characters manage to ask each other about their feelings without directly mentioning the relationship at all. They evade each other, skate around their emotions and the subject at hand to create a tense, slow-moving build up. Silence unfortunately is a technique not utilised enough in moviemaking, however Guadagnino drew on this neat and profound tool. Often the two figures lay beside each other in the hot air with a quiet sense of understanding, knowing that often words cannot do justice to the truth and are deeply uneloquent, able to brutally disturb a moment. Yet when eventually this dialogue and silence progresses, uniting the characters, it just as intensely rips the two apart, with a blinding, shattering conclusion.
Voicing this dialogue were two mesmerising actors. While I know it is in my interest, the casting choices were spot on, not simply for their talent, but equally their attractiveness. You were not able to take your mind or eyes off either figure. Certainly it was enough to prompt Timothée Chalamet (Elio) a cult following within a matter of weeks, despite his youth and ever-growing oeuvre, and Armie Hammer (Oliver) too deserves a mention. Their magnetism only enhanced the believability of the pair, and alongside Sufjan Stevens' soundtrack you couldn’t help but be swept along with the heat of the screen. Michael Stuhlbarg's performance as Elio's father, was a hidden blessing for his surprising and revelatory conversation with Elio in the latter half of the film provided a troubling insight into the complications of love and unexpressed emotion.
While a 'Best Picture' award isn't certain, what we can be sure of is that plenty of planes heading for the Italian countryside will be fully booked this summer, striving for its intense heat, its wild growing peaches, and the sheer romanticism of the landscape - which was the second focus of adoration in the film. The striking blue colour of the sky resembled a Renaissance artwork along with the golden fields and Italian architecture. Call Me By Your Name is like a prolonged daydream, dwelling in the mind of the viewer until bittersweetly we must begrudgingly return to face reality, whereby the only weather we face is far from Italian, instead blizzardy, cold and unforgiving.
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