Best Picture Countdown #1: Call Me By Your Name

“We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything … what a waste!” – Michael Stuhlbarg as Mr. Perlman, Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Dir. Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois
Rating: R
Runtime: 2hr 12min

Call Me By Your Name follows 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Chalamet) and his evolving relationship with his father’s grad student assistant, Oliver (Hammer) over a summer in Northern Italy in the early 80’s. As their emotional and physical intimacy develops, Elio learns valuable lessons about sexuality, relationships, and the warring sweetness and grief that comes with love.

CallMeByYourName2017Of all 9 nominees for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this year, Luca Guadagnino’s coming-of-age drama about a sensual summer in Italy hit the hardest, spoke the loudest, and shone the brightest. It rocketed to the top of my personal list the moment I stepped out of the theater and has remained there ever since, though it wasn’t the last nominated film I saw. Upon reviewing all the nominees, Call Me By Your Name felt like the most well-rounded film; the music, the cinematography, the directing, the acting, the visuals, and the writing all combined for an utterly compelling cinematic experience, and I think it deserved more than the 4 nominations it received.

This film’s premise isn’t overly complicated – at the basest level, it’s a summer romance. And yet, it is so much more. Call Me By Your Name is an exploration into the complexities of human sexuality, a celebration of first love and savoring every sweet moment before an inevitable goodbye, and each small moment or movement – whether it be dancing in the streets,  yearning for watch-hands to tick faster, a long bicycle ride in the balmy heat of summer, or the music of a piano soaring through a room for an audience of one – bears significance. This film is a warm sweater on a rainy day, a dip in a pool beneath the scorching sun, a snapshot of a happy memory pinned to a cork board, and the sort of movie that invokes emotion without trying too hard to jerk at the heartstrings.

Gary Oldman is a juggernaut in the Best Actor category for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, and has been collecting hardware all season, but I am actually pulling for underdog Chalamet to pull out a win. His performance as Elio was breathtaking, even in moments of silence. He perfectly captured and expressed the feelings of being young, in love, and uncertain – my heart broke when he called his mother near the end of the film and asked, “Can you come get me?” with his back hunched and voice breaking. Honestly, I think he deserves the award for the last two minutes/credits sequence of the film alone. Even if he doesn’t win, a thousand gold stars to him. A THOUSAND, I SAY.

The chemistry and rapport between Hammer (who was unjustly snubbed for a Best Supporting nod, if you ask me) and Chalamet sold the romance 100%; their interactions felt genuine, their conversations natural, their hesitations understandable, and the evolution of their feelings for one another was an earnest, well-paced, and nicely developed journey, not just a mechanical “point A to point B to point C” narrative. It’s refreshing in a romance to see the less confident, more nerve-wracked person (Elio) being the one to initially make a move, contrasting with Oliver’s internal conflict over whether or not to act on his feelings due to the potential complications – a small subversion of genre expectations. The ups and downs of their relationship unfold with authenticity and passion and reveal both the positives and negatives of a consuming summer love and how it can make a heart soar, or sink, depending on the circumstances.

The rest of the cast is also excellent in their roles, especially Stuhlbarg as Mr. Perlman. His speech to Elio in the last third of the film is, in my opinion, the most poignant and powerful piece of writing (and one of the overall best acting feats) seen onscreen in all of 2017. If you glean nothing else from this film, that quote – the one I put in at the top of this post – is a message that should be taken to heart, and called upon when grief seems to usurp all other feelings.

For moments like that, and for several others, I’m predicting a Best Adapted Screenplay victory for James Ivory’s adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel. When a screenwriter takes care of the characters and manages to add their own flair while remaining faithful and doing justice to the source material, even if they must make changes, it’s obvious that a lot of attention and care has gone into the effort. Ivory’s screenplay is superb; jam-packed with emotion and moments that linger in the mind and heart, and his words, combined with the excellent performances, made the characters feel alive. Even the smallest statements, the most subtle looks or phrases or movements, the softest sighs or simplest glances, have power in this film, and the writing is a huge part of that. I also think – like Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards – that Gudagnino was snubbed for a Best Director nom, but whatev… nothing to be done about it now.

I’m rooting for Sufjan Stevens to take home the Best Original Song award for his song “Mystery of Love,” but it’s probably going to get downed by The Greatest Showman‘s “This is Me,” or Coco‘s “Remember Me” – which is fine, because those songs are total jams. Regardless, I look forward to seeing Sufjan perform the song on Sunday night.

If Call Me By Your Name takes home the gold for Best Picture tomorrow night, I will actually scream and jump up and down in my living room, and I don’t even care if my neighbors get pissed. This film is a triumph – the kind of film you want to embrace and carry its warmth with you for as long as you can, or recall in moments of grief. It might be considered a long-shot in all categories but one, but this masterpiece deserves the highest honor on Oscar Night, and I’m really hoping that it emerges as the champion – but even if it doesn’t, it’s still my top film of 2017.

Oscar Nominations
Best Actor (Chalamet)
Best Original Song
Best Adapted Screenplay
Best Picture

For my full review of Call Me By Your Name from earlier this year, click HERE!

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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