The 90th Academy Awards are this Sunday, and if you’re anything like us, you might not have seen all the films nominated for Best Picture yet. At times it still seems like not much has changed in Hollywood in terms of representation, but with the extreme success of Black Panther and the bright future of A Wrinkle in Time on the heels of Get Out and Girls Trip, things are looking up.
In case you missed out on some of the Best Picture Nominees, we’re here to help decide what to watch (and what you can keep missing out on). Here’s part one of our review roundup.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Despite being an Arclight regular and a newly minted MoviePass cardholder, I hadn’t actually seen many Oscars-contending films before Awards Season began, but after the Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell Golden Globes wins, I wanted to see what Three Billboards was all about. Fairly quickly into the narrative, lawman Jason Dixon is presented as your everyday racist cop who revels in his violence and brutality against black people. It’s even presented as a joke between McDormand’s Mildred Hayes and Dixon–a pithy exchange, ostensibly poking back at so-called PC culture, wherein Hayes asks Dixon how it’s going in the “nigger torture business,” to which he replies something like “You have to call it person’s of color torture these days.” I suppose this is intended to provide some sort of sense of levity for the audience, but I watched it with my family, and none of us were laughing. My experience was similar to that of Hanif Abdurraqib, except it wasn’t just me alone in a theater of white people (as is my usual), but my entire family across three generations. The lines are patronizing and not special. I felt wedged between the exasperating poking of annoying writing and self-preservation. There were many times I just wanted to stop watching the film. The “persons of color torture” is held offscreen, but dangled in front of us like a secret that really isn’t so. I want to know: is black suffering so easily commodified that it is dripped on merely as a character flaw in an otherwise good man? I hope we tire quickly of weaponizing blackness as a film trope when trying to call “liberals” out on their own failings with racism. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet seen the film, I would say skip it. Don’t forget, they thought Crash was a good movie too.
Nail-biting drama depicting the Washington Post vs. the US Government in the fight to publish or squash the Pentagon Papers. Subtle and brilliant performances by Meryl Streep (Kay Graham, publisher) and Tom Hanks (Ben Bradlee, editor). What I appreciated about the movie is its topicality. But beyond the urgency for freedom of the press, the subplot of the cacophony of men paternalizing concern for Graham and her decision-making abilities was perhaps the more interesting story. A woman in a powerful position derided either way for holding off or taking action by a group of men used to speaking over or for her. In a sad, ironic way it felt validating to see that reality reflected on the screen. Again, topicality.
Films like Get Out resonate with multiple audiences for a variety of reasons: it is a creative, fictional look at the real-world terrors of ongoing social issues; it is a well made and original horror film at a time when thoughtful scares are hard to come by; and it is an original screenplay that doesn’t use the repetitive themes and tropes often seen in Best Picture dramas. Jordan Peele delivered a film that unapologetically feeds the desire of black audiences to see relevant stories and representation on the big screen. In doing so, he opened the door a little more for filmmakers, screenwriters and producers who are just as passionate about telling original stories with an inclusive cast and crew while stepping outside of Hollywood’s current era of reboots, biopics and same ol’ stories told a different way. Aside from the hope that this film will usher in a new era of original [black] screenplays, it is simply a good movie. It’s one that can be viewed several times because each showing reveals a new hint, tease or clue that was missed before. The movie is so layered in symbolism that it has cultivated a demand for college courses and spaces to discuss the film, while inspiring visual interpretations from artists across the world. When considering the art of moviemaking and what one hopes to influence with their creation, only few are able to find the embraced sense of community success that Peele created with this title. – reviewed by Pamela Chinawah
Call Me By Your Name
It is beautiful. Tender. Hard and soft. Full of longing and exploration and heartache. I sort of forgave everyone’s impossible beauty and erudition. I got swept up in Elio’s summer of music and bike riding and swimming and play. Sometimes it is hard to remember to just have fun and enjoy watching people have fun and get lost in storytelling. A fair critique of the “Mainstream Gay Movie” genre, and CMBYN specifically, appears in the LA Review of Books. D.A. Miller’s essay is important and insightful. However, I do still think this film is worth watching and I feel enriched for having seen it.
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Who do you think will take home the trophy this Sunday?
Part two next week, with a follow-up!
The Academy Awards air Sunday, March 4th on ABC.
Unless otherwise noted, films reviewed by Janea Wilson.
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