Best Picture Countdown #2: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

“This didn’t put an end to shit, you fucking retard; this is just the fucking start. Why don’t you put that on your Good Morning Missouri fucking wake up broadcast, bitch?”Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Dir: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, etc.
Runtime: 1hr55min
Rating: R

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows Mildred Hayes (McDormand) as she utilizes three billboards to air her grievances with the local police department over the unsolved murder of her daughter. Her desire for vengeance puts her at odds not only with the police, but with her own family and others in the town.

Whooo boy, this one was tough!


I’m going to say this straight up, although Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was only my second favorite Oscar-nominated film this year… I do think it is going to win Best Picture. And that would be a 100% justified victory, because this film is incredible.

As a personal anecdote about how powerful this film is, my father – who does not get into awards shows or artsy/indie films to the extent that I do – asked me to tell him when the Supporting Actor, Lead Actress, and other relevant categories were announced during the BAFTAs so he could watch, and he cheered out loud when “my boy!” Sam Rockwell won the Golden Globe. He is actively rooting for this film and continues to praise it whenever it pops up in conversation. Also, when I saw this film with my parents, we were the only people in the film aside from one other man, who I’m 75% sure snuck in without paying. That’s a crime, considering how brilliant this movie is. We also call it “Three Billbos” in my house, because that’s what the marquee said when we were at the theater, but I digress…

Sam Rockwell is, as far as I’m concerned, a lock for Best Supporting Actor. I don’t think it’s even a contest. I have never, ever in my life had such a back-and-forth, rollercoaster of a reaction to a film character, and it’s all down to Rockwell’s performance. I went from thinking Dixon was a moron, to hating him, to really hating him, to kind of liking him, to rooting for his success, to feeling ambiguous about him, and so on. Though Harrelson turns in a spectacular performance as Willoughby, he’s easily eclipsed by his co-star – though the moments their characters share onscreen are a treat to witness.

Similarly, I consider Frances McDormand the front-runner for Best Actress – she perfectly executes the simmering rage of a mother out for vengeance over the cruel, unsolved murder of her daughter, spitting vitriol at anyone who would try to impede her mission, yet she also shows the vulnerability and heartbreak of a woman who has suffered an unimaginable loss and is still trying to piece together the fragments of her life. There are moments – as with Dixon – where I didn’t like Mildred, either because of some heartless jape she says, or something she does that seems more vindictive than justified, and also moments where I wanted her to torch the entire town to ashes or reach through the screen to pat her shoulder. She is the heart of this film and carries it on her shoulders, in her fury, her pain, her moments of delinquency, and her emotional struggle. The nuanced characters and the emotionally-layered performances of the actors are a major strength of this film – but it’s also a testament to the writing.

Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is rife with dark humor, sharp dialogue and a relevant social commentary, unpredictable and jaw-dropping moments, cutting insults and heart-wrenching expressions of pain and soul-stirring explosions of anger, and characters that pop off of the screen like real, breathing people. Even the side characters, like James (Dinklage), are distinct and have memorable lines and scenes. This film is poignant, dark, and the type of narrative that will illicit emotions that you might not want to feel, but the powerful, lingering message it delivers is one that deserves and demands to be heard and seen. If it doesn’t win Best Original Screenplay, I’ll be surprised – and I think McDonagh was totally snubbed for Best Director. The “window” scene with Dixon and Red was pure cinematic gold – I was actually squirming in my seat through the whole thing, and I think my pounding heart left bruises on my ribs.

Though Burwell is an underdog for Best Score, I actually like his score the best of all the nominees – regardless, I don’t think he’ll win, but it does make me excited to hear more from him in future films. Film Editing is up in the air, but I’m predicting at least three wins for Three Billboards…and maybe four, if it can edge out the rest in the close race for Best Picture. And if the awards season trend continues as it has been, Three Billboards just might take it home.
Oscar Nominations
Best Supporting Actor (Harrelson)
Best Supporting Actor (Rockwell)
Best Actress (McDormand)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score
Best Film


Best Picture Countdown #3: The Shape of Water

“He’s a wild creature. We can’t ask him to be anything else.”Richard Jenkins as Giles, The Shape of Water (2017)

Dir: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones
Runtime: 2hr3min
Rating: R

The Shape of Water is a fantasy/drama set in the Cold War era and centered on mute custodian Elisa (Hawkins) who establishes a romantic connection with an “Amphibian Man” (Jones) who is being kept at the facility where she works. When outside forces threaten them, Elisa concocts a plan that might save the creature from a cruel and undeserved fate, even if it means their separation.


When I walked into the theater for Guillermo del Toro’s monster romance The Shape of Water, I fully expected to be putting it at #1 by the time the credits rolled. Perhaps this film suffered from over-hype, or perhaps set my expectation meter too high, but I found The Shape of Water a bit lacking beneath the surface. It’s a visual spectacle that subverts traditional tropes, a dreamlike tale of love, loss, and finding hope in the darkness, but the glossy sheen can’t quite mask that depth isn’t quite there.

For the record, I love weird shit and have always admired del Toro’s vision, so this film is right up my alley. The story is gripping, the stunning visuals create an immersive atmosphere well-suited to the narrative, the acting is on point and the characters are distinct and memorable, the monster himself is exceptional, and everything about this film screams both horror and beauty in equal measure. This film got the most Oscar noms out of any others in the competition, and all the buzz about it is totally deserved, but it doesn’t top my personal list for a few reasons.

Overall, I perceived a lot of the character motivations to be shallow, with the exception of Michael Stuhlbarg’s character (Hofstetter) and Michael Shannon’s villain (Strickland). I expected myself to be charmed by Elisa’s romance with the Amphibian Man, and I was invested in their development, but ultimately found it to be… lackluster. To me, Elisa came across as so desperately lonely she latched onto the misunderstood creature to cure that emptiness, and the Amphibian Man just kind of went with it. The two clearly forge a genuine connection over their mutual loneliness and “outsider” status, and they learn from one another and each undergoes changes because of the other, but it didn’t click for me the way it should have. The “song and dance” number near the end of the film also did not land – it took me out of the film entirely, and only made me feel like their romance was simply Elisa projecting her fantasies onto the Amphibian Man while he was merely infatuated with eggs. The ending of the film, however, redeemed their uneven bond somewhat in my mind. I also appreciated the exploration into the side characters – especially Hofstetter and Strickland, and Giles to some degree – but I think the wide-reaching focus and other plot threads, though compelling, came to the detriment of the main story.

But there is a lot to love about this film. Alexandre Desplat’s score is gorgeous, and a perfect supplement to the narrative and the characters. I’d love Zimmer to win for his contribution to Dunkirk, but I think Desplat will be taking another Oscar home this weekend. The writing and directing is another del Toro triumph, as he masterfully weaves a haunting, yet whimsical fairy-tale where the monster is a prince and the princess is an outcast, and a vile villain threatens them with the face of an ordinary man. The cinematography, sound, and other technical and visual aspects are all contenders – so many frames/stills from this movie stick in my mind for how striking they are – and I’m personally predicting it will win Production Design. On the acting front, Jenkins is superb as Giles, providing comic relief and contributing powerfully to the heart and the emotional conflict of the film… but I actually thought Shannon should have gotten the nod over him. He was fucking terrifying – more frightening than any monster or beast of lore could be. I felt ambivalent about Octavia Spencer – she’s great, as usual, but I’m not sure it’s Best Supporting Actress worthy. Hawkins is marvelous, expressing hope and heartbreak and emoting without being able to actually vocalize Elisa’s feelings, but I’ve got one actress on my ballot slated above her in the Best Actress race. Though if her name gets announced on Oscar night, I’ll be cheering.

When it comes to the array of awards The Shape of Water is nominated for, it’s more or less guaranteed to take home some hardware on the evening of March 4th. But when it comes to the ultimate prize, the esteemed Best Picture award, I’m not sure if this whimsical, monstrous dream of a tale will emerge victorious over the competition.
Oscar Nominations:
Best Director (del Toro)
Best Actress (Hawkins)
Best Supporting Actor (Jenkins)
Best Supporting Actress (Spencer)
Best Original Screenplay
Best Costume Design
Best Cinematography
Best Film Editing
Best Original Score
Best Production Design
Best Sound Mixing
Best Sound Editing
Best Film

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.