The start of the movie year is largely filled with awards contenders, and as a fan of awards I make a point of seeing as many of the nominees as I can. Kicking off 2018 for me was the film best known for a sudden recasting, as Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World featured the removal of Kevin Spacey and rapid replacement with Christopher Plummer. While the film itself is competent if uninspired, the willingness of the filmmakers, especially Scott himself, to engage with and take seriously the debates over appropriate behaviour make this film something of a landmark. And Mr Plummer did not do too badly, earning an Oscar nomination for his trouble.
All The Money In The World did not concern the Academy members otherwise, nor indeed did one of the Best Picture nominees, The Post. Nominated for Best Picture and Best Actress (21 nominations, Meryl, really?), The Post was nonetheless a gripping, urgent and timely tale of the importance of the press as well as being a significant story of female empowerment. However, it was a rather safe film in terms of awards attention, so I was pleased to see other films honoured.
Another safe bet, which did pick up some awards, was Darkest Hour, with Gary Oldman and a tonne of prosthetics bringing Winston Churchill to quivering yet unwavering life. I found Darkest Hour a patchy film, but there is no denying the strength of Oldman’s performance.
Two of the nominees for Original Song I missed on their original release but caught up with later. The first of these, The Greatest Showman, proved a hollow effort that raised interesting ideas which then got lost in the seemingly heady rush to the end for, well, not much. Far more rewarding was Coco, a charming, funny and yet bittersweet tale that not only picked up the Oscar for Original Song, but also continued Pixar’s triumphs in the Animated Feature category.
I count four of the Best Picture nominees in my top films of the year, and had a tough time picking which I wanted to win. Phantom Thread may have been the most meticulously crafted film of the year: every comma of the script, every cut to a different angle, every raised eyebrow of its stellar cast as precise and perfect as Reynolds Woodcock’s (Daniel Day-Lewis) intricate creations. Meanwhile, Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird reminded audiences and Academy members alike that women do make interesting films and that there are interesting stories about women (shocking!), and that Saoirse Ronan can do no wrong.
The big hitters at the award ceremonies, and two of the best films of the year, were Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and the eventual winner, The Shape of Water. I love both films, finding Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to be heartbreaking and uplifting in equal measure, with plot, character, performance, direction, editing and music held in near perfect balance. The Shape of Water is, for me, less accomplished overall, as its Cold War narrative strand feels artificially attached to the central fishy love story. However, for the Academy to reward a fantastical monster film gets a thumbs-up from me, and Guillermo Del Toro’s magnificent direction, not to mention progressive gender politics, makes the film a major winner in my view.