What Should Win Best Picture? (And Other Predictions)
The 90th Oscars ceremony premieres Sunday night, and as I continue to try to see everything I can before Oscar Night (this year I saw five out of the nine nominees!), I think about what ought to win the award. At face value, one would assume this award is based on sheer quality, but this is obviously not the case based on how many folks I know have called The Greatest Showman their favorite film of all time (and more obviously the fact that there's been no singular film winning a Best Picture award this season). I think there are a couple criteria that can and should come into play when determining what should win a particular year's Best Picture prize.
Before getting into this, here are my general thoughts of the Best Picture nominees. Like I wrote in my review, Dunkirk was a tremendous use of the medium to create a visceral and experiential snapshot of the evacuations, even at the expense of (in this case, unnecessary) character development. I was surprised Darkest Hour was as great as it was, standing on its cinematically dynamic presentation of the episode and not just Gary Oldman's powerhouse performance as Winston Churchill. I felt The Post was too heavy-handed connecting President Nixon's contentious relationship with the press to the current administration (despite agreeing with most of the film); it is neither Spielberg's best, nor the best of the nominees. Lady Bird, my favorite film of the bunch, is a universally-relatable coming-of-age story about mothers and daughters, identity, and hometowns, beautifully rendered by writer-director Greta Gerwig and realistically performed by its cast. I had to call my mom afterwards because I was so moved! Finally, Get Out was a smart film that, while not the scariest of the year's horror offerings, stood out for its original, thrilling, and poignant social commentary on American race relations. (I was unable to catch the remaining nominees before tonight.)
There are three points I think are worth considering when determining the Best Picture. The first, obviously, is: "Well, is it great?" As I wrote above and based on the talk of the town, I feel that all of these deserved their nomination based on this criteria. They either tell a story in a great way (Get Out, Lady Bird), or they use the cinematic form in an original way (Dunkirk, The Shape of Water). That said, I feel like The Post is easily the weakest of these nominees. I certainly wouldn't have nominated it, giving its spot (or the unused tenth spot) to The Big Sick, but I still totally get why it was nominated, which leads into the next criteria:
Is it relevant or important for the time? And because of its relevancy and prestige (Spielberg, Streep, and Hanks), The Post was kind of a shoe-in for a Best Picture nomination. Similarly, Get Out speaks to the continued existence of racism in America, The Shape of Water is the love story of outcasts, and Three Billboards is about one woman against corrupt members of the police force, which is a hot topic today. We saw last year this helped Moonlight win the prize, the coming-of-age story of a gay African-American boy growing up in the projects--the story of one person representing many minorities (it was also super good!).
Finally, one must ask, "What will be remembered in ten years?" Or, what is the modern classic? In 1999, Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan. Do you know what people talk about today? Saving Private Ryan. People only watch Shakespeare in Love to join the chorus that declare Saving Private Ryan should have won. This is a harder criteria to measure, but I feel like if Darkest Hour or The Post wins, it will join Shakespeare in Love. I personally think Get Out, which has been in the conversation for the past full year (much like previous Best Picture winner Silence of the Lambs the year it won), will fill this criteria in addition to being relevant today and a great film. So while my heart is with Lady Bird (which I thought was the best of the nominees), I think Get Out should win the prize, but I feel The Shape of Water, which has been liked consistently in the same way between critics and audiences, will end up going home as the Best Picture of 2017.