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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Film Review: 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
Spoiler level: Minor (some dialogue is revealed)

Each year, I make an effort to see every Best Picture nominee for the Academy Awards, and was lucky enough to have time to see Luca Guadagnino’s film Call Me By Your Name on the last day it was playing in my town, after a mere 6-day run at one of two local chains. I went into this film unsure of what to expect, and emerged from the theater, 2.5 hours later and teary-eyed, with a new personal favorite for Best Picture at the Oscars this year.

CallMeByYourName2017
By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54670536

Adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, Call Me By Your Name explores the relationship between seventeen-year-old Elio Perlman (Chalamet) and twenty-four-year-old Oliver (Hammer), an American scholar who is staying with the Perlman family as an assistant to Elio’s father (Stuhlbarg), as it evolves over a summer in 1980’s Italy.

Call Me By Your Name‘s strength is a combination of beautiful cinematography, strong performances from a brilliant cast, and the way it delivers its messages and themes to the viewers. While fellow Best Picture contender Phantom Thread (which I saw the day prior) is a film that makes you think, to wrack your brain trying to pick apart the character’s motivations and desires and connections to one another, Call Me By Your Name is a film that makes you feel. It draws on emotions from various different angles – from the awkwardness of adolescence, to the conflicting pain and elation of first love, to the lamentation of wasted days and the curiosity of sexuality, to the bond between parents and children and family of different generations, to the thrills of desire – and it never feels disingenuous. The emotions felt and expressed by the characters resonate off the screen and linger long after the credits have rolled and the lights come on, and it will be a film that sticks with me for a long time.

Overall, the film is paced in a way that allows the relationships between the characters – not only the leads, but the supporting cast as well – to develop in an organic manner, that does not feel rushed or forced. The film also does a marvelous job in exploring the beauty of small moments – small gestures, brief touches, the flicker of a gaze or a soft sigh – and it makes every scene, even the ones with no dialogue (only the excellent soundtrack) – explode with purpose and meaning. The scenery of a summer in Italy provides a gorgeous, lush backdrop for the character interactions, and is shown in a way that I could almost feel the heat or the gentle breeze or the coolness of the river.

Though it will be a challenge to dethrone current award-season Best Actor champion Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Chalamet’s performance as Elio is remarkable, and might just be my current favorite dark horse in the Oscar race. His nuanced portrayal of a seventeen-year-old experiencing the roller coaster of emotion that comes with a first love is rife with subtle mannerisms, evocative dialogue, and familiar elements that anyone who has felt a similar way, or who has ever been a somewhat awkward teenager growing up in a world they don’t fully understand yet, can likely relate to. His final scene in the film was enough to draw a tear or two, and the way his voice broke on the “Can you come get me?” line was enough to split even my cold heart in half.

Hammer delivers a powerful and moving performance as Oliver – I found myself often focusing on his facial expressions, and how he was able to masterfully portray a myriad of emotion in such small, subtle motions and gestures, especially as he grapples with his feelings for Elio and the worry of how his actions might be perceived. Though the age gap between the characters might draw the side-eye from some (and understandably so) their relationship unfolds in a way that does not come off as exploitative or manipulative, and does not rely on common LGBTQ tropes or themes. Their chemistry is palpable, their conversations feel raw and genuine, and their connection to each other is expressed more prominently in their growing emotional intimacy than the physical. It’s somewhat of a subversion of the genre, and a breath of fresh air – as is Michael Stuhlbarg’s performance as Elio’s father. His speech to Elio in the third act of the film is so real, and so wonderful – the line “But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything – what a waste!” (which originates in the novel) is the single greatest line I’ve heard in a film all year, and Stuhlbarg delivers it beautifully as he attempts to support and help his son navigate the tribulations that come with such an intense emotional journey.

Call Me By Your Name is a unique coming-of-age-film that expertly handles matters of the body, heart, and soul, and exposes the vulnerability of emotion, relationships, and first love in a beautiful, compelling, and heart-wrenching fashion. It might be a dark horse, but any gold statues it takes home on March 4th (and I hope it gets some) will be utterly deserved.

Overall rating: 9.5/10