Wednesday, January 24, 2018

And the Nominees Are ...

The Nominees for Best Picture for the 90th Annual Academy Awards have finally been announced. There are nine of them in all. So far I have already seen seven of the nine - Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, and The Post. (The other two, which I may or may not see between now and March 4, are The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.) 

For what it may be worth, in my opinion Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, and The Post are all deserving candidates. If I had to choose a Best Picture, it would probably be a tie between Dunkirk and The Post. In addition, Lady Bird is a girl's coming-of-age movie, which is well worth seeing. If the choices were to be narrowed to five, as they used to be, those would be my five.

I generally avoid horror films, and so I did not care to see Get Out. But I did watch it recently on TV because, having heard so much celebration of it, I figured it might be nominated. And, of course, knowing the story already,  the horror dimension was eliminated, and I could focus on the racial dynamic, which is what it probably owes its nomination to.

The fact that films often owe their nominations to socio-political-cultural considerations comes as no surprise. The question is which socio-political-cultural considerations will frame the choices.

My four top choices are all set at critical times in the 20th century -  Darkest Hour and Dunkirk in 1940, The Post  in 1971, and Call Me By Your Name a decade later. Since today happens to be the anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), I'll start with the two World War II films.

For me - born in the early post-war Baby Boom - World War II was a recent memory for my parents' generation (the "Greatest Generation"). War movies were an omnipresent staple, as indeed the memory of the war and its lessons - real and imagined - forcefully framed the politics of the time. I still enjoy war-related documentaries on cable TV. The "Greatest Generation" is fading now, and there are no national or world leaders left from that era (with the one significant exception of Queen Elizabeth II). Still the war continues to fascinate. I think that reflects a yearning for a time when the issues were clearer, a time also when the nation was largely united in a common purpose, and when top-quality leaders arose to meet the need - leaders like FDR, Churchill, DeGaulle, etc.). We can look back to them and their time not just with nostalgia but wishing some of what made them and that time so great could be recaptured today. For sheer cinematic virtuosity, Dunkirk deserves pre-eminence, but both Dunkirk and Darkest Hour capture the challenge and the greatness we associate with that wartime experience. The former highlights heroic and principled political leadership (so sorely lacking now). The latter highlights the struggles and heroism of ordinary soldiers and civilians, thrown together in a life-and-death struggle to salvage civilization.

I wrote about The Post just a little over a week ago and need not repeat myself here. It captures a critical moment in American history when society had to reckon with decades of deceitful government policy that had brought about a military calamity abroad and a breakdown in our civic culture at home. The movie recalls the start of our increasingly mutually adversarial political culture and the part played by the press in that development. And it also offers a moving account of one woman's transformation from conventional society wife to something she herself had never expected. For all these reasons, it certainly seems to speak directly to today's current cultural climate.

Call Me By Your Name is a well acted gay boy's coming-of-age drama set at a specific moment in the rapidly evolving experience of gay people in Western society. The story is set, however, in an almost unreal setting, quite unlike that in which most gay people (or for that matter almost anyone else who wasn't super talented and, above all, rich) actually had to function at that time. (Its location is Italy, but almost the only Italians we see are a few servants, and it could just as realistically be set almost anywhere - or on the moon.) But the seriousness of the film's subject and the profundity of the performances explain its inclusion among the nominees.

Of course, the Oscar could just as likely go to one of the movies I haven't seen!

No comments:

Post a Comment