2017 was a fantastic year in film; probably the best year of the last five. It was a perfect melding of rising talent and classic staples of British-American cinema. And the wait for nominations is finally over. So without further ado, here are my picks for “The Big Five” winners at the 90th Academy Awards.
Best Screenplay (original or adapted): Call Me by Your Name
Call Me by Your Name has been getting a great deal of attention, despite it being a small, independent production with a limited theatrical release. And it’s no surprise why. It’s the stuff of legend. Adapted from André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, James Ivory’s script is methodical and ingenious in the progression of its storytelling. It captures the essence of the novel’s innate sensuality and curiosity, and weaves it seamlessly into a two-hour script of a rapturous coming-of-age tale. It’s sophisticated, heartwarming, and present in its emotional complexity. It also does a fantastic job of staying true to major points of the book’s plot and even creatively incorporates some of the book’s detailed minutia.
Best Director: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Dunkirk is a visual masterpiece. I would go so far as saying that it is the most well-made movie of 2017. From a technical standpoint, it is breathtaking. The setting is both grand and claustrophobic. The cinematography is gritty and raw, while somehow remaining precise and deliberate in its aims. Most, if not all, of the movie’s action sequences were shot using practical effects, with little-to-no CGI employed whatsoever. The tension is built upon in unparalleled systematic brilliance. And it’s all shot on film. None of this would have occurred if not for Christopher Nolan.
Regarded as one of the highest grossing and most critically acclaimed directors of all time, Nolan is responsible for The Dark Knight Trilogy, as well as 2010’s Inception and 2014’s Interstellar. Now, I am not a fan of Inception or Interstellar, because, as far as I’m concerned, they’re self-righteous, pseudo-intellectual, overindulgent, overrated bore-fests with little beyond acting talent and interesting visuals to be considered redeemable qualities. But Dunkirk is different. It is simple in every sense of the word, while still retaining the kind of visual intricacy and grandiosity that no other movie was able to capture this year. Christopher Nolan is a master of visual storytelling, and for that he deserves an Oscar.
Best Actress: Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Margot Robbie appeared on the acting scene relatively recently, and in a big way. Her first major film role was Martin Scorsese’s 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street, where she starred opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. Her next major role was Harley Quinn in 2016’s Suicide Squad. The movie itself was not great, but Robbie showcased her acting range with bombast and enthusiasm. And that range is displayed beautifully while she plays the infamous professional figure skater Tonya Harding in I, Tonya, as she plummets from the best and most unorthodox female figure skater in the world to a tarnished, morally dubious social pariah.
Her performance is everything you’d want out of a biopic portrayal. She takes a conventionally unattractive and universally despised figure in sports history and turns the entire perception of her on its head. Robbie transforms Harding into a sympathetic, heart-wrenching character study on the influences of compassion, ambition, and societal norms; and it’s one of the most compelling character arcs of the year. Robbie is as earnest as she is ruthless and as violent as she is vulnerable in the role. Her and Allison Janney (who has received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod and gives an outstanding performance as Harding’s mother, LaVona) have such a palpable onscreen chemistry, which really aides in elevating the story’s themes of family and love. Although Frances McDormand will probably win the day for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, there’s something about Margot Robbie’s performance as Harding that gives her the edge in my book.
Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
The competition in the Best Actor lineup this awards season is legendary. The list includes three-time Academy Award-winner Daniel Day-Lewis and two-time Academy Award-winner Denzel Washington. We also see first time nominations for Timothée Chalamet and Daniel Kaluuya. And finally, we have probably one of the best character actors of all time, Gary Oldman. In Darkest Hour, Oldman plays British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in the early days of his tenure as the political leader of a country on the brink of war with Nazi Germany. Oldman disappears into the role, both in acting and in physicality; he’s heavily disguised in facial prosthetics and a body suit to better reflect Churchill’s portly stature. Oldman had to portray Churchill’s notorious aggression, as well as his apparent discomfort and lack of composure as the newly minted world leader thrust into the military crisis of the Dunkirk evacuation, and it’s a masterclass in character acting.
While generally not a critically acclaimed actor throughout his career, Gary Oldman’s ability to sink and mold himself into the characters he has played is unmatched. He can go from playing a bloodthirsty vampire in 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to the leader of a Kazakh terrorist group in 1997’s Air Force Once, to a paranoid Cold War espionage expert in 2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, for which he was also nominated for an Academy Award. The list goes on, and this role is no different; his likeness to Churchill in voice, diction, demeanor, and physical appearance is jarring. This performance is a career-maker for him, as if he needed one.
Best Picture: Call Me by Your Name
Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture this year, I had been most anxiously awaiting Call Me by Your Name. I had seen the movie’s trailer earlier in the year, which prompted me to do some research on the source material. This introduced me to what is now one of my favorite pieces of literature; a book of the same name written in 2007 by author and literary academic André Aciman.
The plot follows Elio Perlman, a seventeen-year-old Jewish adolescent living with his parents at their family villa in Northern Italy during the summer of 1983. Every summer, his father (a distinguished Classics professor) chooses a doctoral student to live with the family and assist in academic research. That summer, Professor Perlman’s research assistant is a handsome twenty-four-year-old Jew by the name of Oliver. Throughout the book, Elio and Oliver gradually and painstakingly develop a romantic relationship with each other that both blooms and struggles as the story progresses.
The movie tells the story with a fortitude and vision unlike any other movie I’ve seen this past year. It is magnificent in its meandering, elaborative in its emotion, primal in its passion, and saturated in sensuality. It is a brooding coming of age story coupled with an unorthodox and gripping love story, intertwined with a conflictive character study that pits desire against indecisiveness and love against time.
Luca Guadagnino directs the film to perfection and should’ve been nominated for Best Director; his work is second-to-none. It’s beautifully shot, with lush, static, holding long shots of the beautiful Italian scenery juxtaposed so fluidly with close-ups of actors and important set pieces. The soundtrack is compelling and tonally significant as well, with it fluctuating from melodic piano to the unique sound of Sufjan Stevens’ hauntingly poignant music.
The acting is brilliant. We see the young Timothée Chalamet as Elio, who very masterfully rides the line of his character’s precociousness, intellectual maturity, and emotional naivety. The joviality, heartbreak, and total anguish he is able to summon from himself is truly remarkable. If you haven’t seen any more of his talented acting work, seek it out; he’s the next Leonardo DiCaprio. Armie Hammer plays Oliver (for which he received a Golden Globe nomination). He does a great job of portraying Oliver’s overwhelming confidence, which masks his sexual curiosities and self-doubt.
Amira Casar, a prominent French actress, plays Elio’s mother, Annela, and gives a very vibrant and loving feel to a relatively minor character. And finally, Michael Stuhlbarg plays Professor Perlman. Stuhlbarg has been in a plethora of movies over the past several years, most recently The Shape of Water and The Post, but by far his most compelling role of the year is that of Professor Perlman. He is as fatherly as he is scholarly, and the compassion that he shows Elio at the end of the movie is one of the most moving monologues in film.
If you haven’t gotten the opportunity to watch Call Me by Your Name, go see it. It is cinema in its finest, most eloquent form.