Best Picture Countdown #6: Phantom Thread

“I cannot start my day with a confrontation. I simply have no time for confrontations.” – Daniel Day Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, Phantom Thread (2017)

Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville
Runtime: 2hr 10min
Rating: R

A period drama set in London during the 50’s, Phantom Thread follows the turbulent relationship between fashion designer Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and young waitress Alma (Krieps). Their romance teeters precariously between love and loathing as they struggle to adapt to and learn to understand each other’s differences and contrasting perspectives.

Phantom_Thread.pngThis is a slow-burning film and I found myself theorizing about it and connecting all the dots for a long time afterward. There are so many pieces to put together, different scraps of cloth that must be interwoven to complete the full garment, that the film almost comes across like a mystery or a thriller as well as a drama. It’s a film that makes the viewer think; to wrack their brain and try to understand the character motivations, the inner-workings of their psyche, and the root of their emotions. Most of the film I was expecting DDL’s character to end up being a serial killer, or there was going to be an incest twist, or something a little more macabre. Fortunately, neither happen, and the film brilliantly subverts expectations and keeps the viewer invested through subtleties in character traits, dialogue, and visual cues. However, at the “big reveal” near the end of this film, my mother and I turned to one another and simultaneously said, “What the *bleep*?” Not in a confused way, however – the ending does make sense – it just comes across as kind of left-fieldish at first, so the film might not land with viewers who seek a more conventional movie experience. It’s an artsy, cerebral film, which not everyone will enjoy.

Phantom Thread isn’t so much a standard movie as it is an exploration into the complexity human relationships, as the two leads come together and fall apart in a strange, whimsical dance of ever-shifting emotion carried by the lead actors, Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps. Their chemistry – in all aspects of their passion for each other, whether it be positive or negative – is palpable, and their tumultuous bond is like the dresses Reynold’s envisions, slowly crafted into form, then torn apart before being stitched back together with some alterations. Watching their relationship unfold is mesmerizing, and their ups and downs are often difficult to watch and equally as difficult to predict.

DDL is one of those actors who can really do no wrong, so his nomination for Best Actor comes as no surprise – but as far as this performance goes in comparison to the competition, I’m not predicting a win for this celebrated actor’s alleged last outing. I was actually more compelled by Krieps performance as Alma, as she wove a more mysterious and difficult to decipher portrayal of her character, which gave the ending more of an impact for me. Also stellar is Manville as Cyril, Reynolds’ sister, whose cool, calculating demeanor and crisply savage dialogue sends chills through the screen and up the spine, and was powerful enough to earn her a Supporting Actress nod. However, I have never wanted to flick someone in the forehead more than DDL in this film, which is a testament to just how stellar his performance is. He takes finicky to a whole new level. Definitely forehead-flick worthy. Though the way Alma eats made my skin crawl, and I wanted to launch myself through the screen and slap the spoon out of her hand.

Visually, Phantom Thread is breathtaking. I’d put money on it taking home the Costume Design award, and wouldn’t be opposed to it taking home Best Original Score or Supporting Actress. Anderson has proven himself a visionary and exemplary director many times already (There Will Be Blood, anyone? I still think of DDL every time I drink a milkshake) but I think the competition might be too fierce this time around for him to take the gold for Best Director, though his eye and vision is part of what makes this film so fucking chic.

It’s bizarre, beautiful, and I will never look at mushrooms the same way again. However, as far as the Best Pictures race goes, I’m not predicting Phantom Thread to take the top spot. But in such a stacked category, that does not diminish just how brilliant this film is.

Oscar Nominations:
Best Picture
Best Actor (DDL)
Best Supporting Actress (Manville)
Best Director (Anderson)
Best Original Score (Greenwood)
Best Costume Design 

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Best Picture Countdown #7: Get Out

“I mean, I told you not to go in that house…”Lil Rel Howery as Rod Williams, Get Out (2017)

Dir: Jordan Peele
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener
Runtime: 1hr43min
Rating: R

Get Out follows black photographer Chris Washington (Kaluuya) as he goes on a weekend trip to meet the family of his white girlfriend, Rose (Williams). But as he spends time with her family and their affluent, somewhat bizarre friends, Chris discovers that this visit might involve more than he bargained for.

Teaser_poster_for_2017_film_Get_OutJordan Peele impresses in his directorial debut – some shots and sequences in this film are downright Kubrickian in atmosphere and scope, especially the basement scenes. I felt tense just watching the interactions of the characters and the various uncomfortable and downright creepy situations. The screenplay is also unique and features an original plot with fresh twists; this doesn’t feel like a story that’s been told a thousand times, a pitfall that plagues so many films in the same genre. It features realistic horrors with a surreal twist, amplifying genuine situations through a horror-based lens, thus keeping the film grounded and making it feel real. Obviously, the film also contains a relevant and timely social commentary that feels both refreshing and necessary, especially for a film of this genre. It also is the type of film that keeps the viewer guessing; I kept trying to figure out how all the visual hints (deer antlers, anyone?) and the little cues in the dialogue were going to lead up to some kind of big reveal, and was not disappointed in the least as the plot fell into place.

The acting is great all around, but especially Kaluuya as Chris. The hypnotism scenes in particular, where he displays genuine terror and helplessness, make the stakes feel brutally intense. Overall, Kaluuya portrays the everyday sort of protagonist that is easy to root for and relate to, as he is refreshingly capable and reasonable – not the type of horror film character who makes stupid decisions and more or less deserves to be chainsawed in the face or whatever. I definitely wanted him to GET OUT, one might say – but, though his stellar performance earned an Oscar nod, I don’t think he’ll be able to edge out the competition. Allison Williams also turns in an excellent performance, and Lil Rel Howery, playing the most likable TSA agent of all time, supplies enough laughs to weave levity into the plot.

Admittedly, I’m not a horror person, so I likely wouldn’t have seen this film if it hadn’t been nominated for Best Picture. Keep your Jasons and your Michael Myerses and your Freddies away from me. But Get Out is horror done right, and done well – though if you seek out horror movies for outlandish scenarios, absurd monsters, and escapism, this isn’t the film for you. I did find myself wishing this film were a bit longer, with more layers to the characters and the story, and deeper exploration into the history of the Armitage family – but simultaneously, I think the lighter exposition is a strength, as it would be all too easy for the film to go overboard with the explanations and make the plot drag. The screenplay is a triumph; Get Out feels like an elongated Twilight Zone episode, with enough subtly terrifying moments and jarring twists that force the viewer to think through and analyze each instance of discomfort and fear.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Peele take home the gold for his screenplay or his directing, but the competition is going to be fierce, and the same goes for all the other awards this film is up for. But even if it doesn’t emerge victorious on March 4th, Get Out was a well-deserved success for all involved, and I look forward to seeing future projects from Kaluuya and Peele.

Oscar Nominations
Best Director (Peele)
Best Original Screenplay (Peele)
Best Actor (Kaluuya)
Best Picture 

Best Picture Countdown #8: Darkest Hour

“Nations which go down fighting rise again, and those that surrender tamely are finished.” – Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill, Darkest Hour (2017)

Dir. Joe Wright
Starring: Gary Oldman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lily James, Stephen Dillane, Ben Mendelsohn, etc.
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 2hr 5min

Darkest Hour is an exploration into the life of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman) during the tension-filled and controversial first few weeks of his tenure, as he takes office with the threat of Germany and the Axis Powers staring down Britain’s thought-impenetrable shores. As World War II rages on, Churchill faces opposition within his own country and outside of it.

dhYou cannot talk about how great this film is without first mentioning Gary Oldman’s performance as the notable British icon. He is the pounding heart of this film, providing the right amount of bluster, confidence, vulnerability, and cantankerousness, delivering Churchill’s famous speeches – most notably, his “Never surrender!” one – with aplomb. There are moments where his outbursts make you laugh, some where you shake your head in disbelief, and others where you might feel the urge to nod sagely in agreement. For his transformation, I’m fully expecting Gary Oldman to win Best Actor – and, truthfully, he 1000% deserves it. I’m stunned he hasn’t won an Oscar before – the man’s a chameleon and immensely talented. But, I’ll admit… he’s not my favorite to win; I’ve got one name ranked above him, though the race is very close. But if his name is read out on Oscar night, I’ll still be clapping ardently from my couch.

This film features brilliant performances – not just from Oldman, but the supporting cast as well – and is compelling from start to finish. It’s a visual treat with memorable dialogue and a score that has been unjustly underrated all awards season. I would have ranked this film above the other WWII-centered film nominated for Best Picture, but in reading up on both films since my initial viewings, Darkest Hour lost the edge for the historical inaccuracies. I understand the need for artistic liberties in historical films because no one can take history and transplant it directly onto the screen in 100% truth, but it’s a case-by-case basis; Imitation Game is one example of a movie that I soured on after reading up on the actual events, but I don’t mind the fictions in Saving Private Ryan one bit. Again, this is ALL personal preference. Playing with real events is tough, and Darkest Hour largely does a great job of showing both positives and negatives of such a critical time in history and it presents a mostly balanced narrative, but when the fiction outweighs history – the subway scene in this film is entirely fictional, for example – then my personal admiration starts to wane. If you’re interested in reading more on the fact vs. the fiction of this film, check out this article from the Slate: HERE!

That said, this is a gorgeous film to look at. I’m actually pulling for it to win the close race for Best Cinematography. There is a scene in this film where Churchill is alone in an elevator, surrounding by empty space, and it might be the most brilliant and symbolic sequence I’ve seen all year. Absolutely phenomenal. It’s an underdog in that contest, but I’d love to see Bruno Delbonnel take it. As far as the other awards go, Darkest Hour is a shoo-in for Makeup and Hairstyling, and rightfully so, considering Oldman’s physical transformation. His performance wouldn’t have been the same without that team turning him into Churchill. When it comes to Costume and Production Design, however, I doubt Darkest Hour will rise above the competition.

Though this film is not likely to take home the gold for Best Picture, Darkest Hour might be Oldman’s finest. If you’re a fan of war films, it’s worth seeing just for his performance and the cinematography alone.

Oscar Nominations
Best Actor (Oldman)
Best Cinematography
Best Production Design
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Picture

For my full review of Darkest Hour from earlier this year, click HERE.

Best Picture Countdown #9: The Post

If we don’t hold them accountable, who will?” – Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, The Post (2017)

Based on the true story of the controversial revelation and handling of the confidential Pentagon Papers, which detail the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War, Steven Spielberg’s 2017 film The Post follows Washington Post heiress Katharine Graham as she grapples with the decision of whether or not to put her paper in the line of fire for the sake of journalistic integrity and truth, or preserve her friendships and relationships with those entwined with the Nixon administration.

On a surface level, political thriller The Post checks all the boxes. You’ve got Tom Hanks. You’ve got Meryl Streep. You’ve got Steven Spielberg. You’ve got John Williams. You’ve got early 70’s fashion. You’ve got a relevant message that rings true in today’s controversy-mired and volatile political system. And yet, even with such a stacked team of people working behind it, The Post is simply fine. It’s a thriller, but not an edge-of-your seat, suspense-laden thriller.

The_Post_(film).pngBut that’s not to say it is undeserving of the nominations and awards it has garnered thus far, or that because it checks off all those boxes, it automatically gets award nods. I found myself invested by the plot of this film, especially knowing that it is rooted in true events of American history. There was a lot about the history of this era that I was unaware of, as American History classes in high schools today tend to shy away from events that might skew perceptions of our government. Each member of the cast delivers capable, if not career best performances; Streep, Hanks, and Bob Odenkirk in particular nail their roles. For her role as Katharine Graham, Streep is also nominated for Best Actress, and though she certainly deserves recognition – her emotional turmoil and struggle to assert her leadership is convincing and, at times, heartbreaking – I think a couple of other names in the Best Actress category turned in stronger performances this year.

Overall, The Post is a film worth watching and is one of the most socially and politically poignant films to come along in recent years, but in the race for Best Picture, it falls a little shy of the competition. Of all the nominees, I’d rank The Post the least likely to take home the gold on March 4th, but it’s still a solid entry and one of the top films of 2017.

Oscar Nominations:
Best Picture
Best Actress (Streep)