2018 Oscars Breakdown

A ranking of the Best Picture nominees and predictions for major awards

Rachel Pickett, Editor-in-Chief

Another year of film has come and gone, and with that brings the annual Academy Awards, or Oscars as they are often called. Before the prestigious show began and the golden trophies were handed out, I sought to watch all 9 Best Picture nominees. While my knowledge of film is extremely limited compared to the members of the Academy who will vote on these awards, I have strong opinions on the Best Picture films and most other major categories. 

Ranking of the 9 Best Picture Nominees:

  1. Lady Bird (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99% ):

Lady Bird follows high school senior Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) as she navigates her young adulthood and deals with a complicated relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) who struggles to find balance between holding on and letting go. The film encapsulates most major milestones of a coming-of-age story with Lady Bird experiencing her first love with sweet and kind Danny (Lucas Hedges), losing her virginity to the local brooding bad boy Kyle (Timothee Chalamet), and attending prom with her best friend, Beanie (Julie Steffans). The film is in a way a love letter to Sacramento and the idea of home itself. For the majority of the film, Lady Bird is itching to leave Sacramento and head to the Northeast where “culture is.” However, when she does leave she finds herself missing the place that was actually her first true love.

Lady Bird is an absolute triumph. Greta Gerwig, in her solo directorial debut, is genius in both her casting and execution of the film. Saoirse Ronan perfectly captures the angst and conflicting emotions of a young woman who feels misunderstood, and Laurie Metcalf does a tremendous job portraying the stress and agony of raising a teenage daughter. Ronan and Metcalf’s chemistry is a gift to watch on the big screen, as their raw emotions translate beautifully into a realistic, poignant mother and daughter relationship. The expansive film is tied together by the great performances of Julie Steffans and notably Timothee Chalamet and Lucas Hedges. In a year where the Time’s Up movement has dominated Hollywood’s headlines, it is great to see such  a tremendous movie written by, directed by, and starring women. 

  1. Get Out (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 99% ):

In Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, rising photography star Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) accompanies his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), to a weekend getaway with Rose’s parents at their sprawling home upstate. While Rose’s family may appear to be accepting of the interracial relationship, subtle clues are dropped throughout the film to hint that there might be something more sinister lurking beneath the surface. What follows is an intense, nuanced masterpiece that explores themes of modern racism, oppression and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness.

While it is unlikely that Get Out will receive the coveted Best Picture Award, it is perhaps the smartest and most culturally cutting movie of all 9 nominees. Unlike many of the other nominated films, Get Out does not rely on cinematography or acting to make the movie wonderful. The entire brilliance of the film lies in the directing and writing of Jordan Peele. He crafts a layered film that has so many hidden meanings, it requires multiple viewings.  Every actor in the film does an incredible job delivering Peele’s lines that are both incredibly honest and reflective of where society is with the problem of racism. Case in point, both Rose and her father (Bradley Whitford) mimic the line “I would have voted for Obama for a third term,” to prove they are not racist. While to the untrained eye, this line may seem perfectly normal, it is the perfect example of how overt racism may be subsiding but that does not mean that racism is subsiding. With its astonishing social commentary, Peele creates a tour de force that will eventually transform into a time capsule showcasing the ways in which the 21st century has grappled with the rise of subtle yet overwhelmingly harmful racism.

  1. Call Me By Your Name (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96% ):

In Luca Guadagnino’s film Call Me By Your Name, precocious and innocent Elio (Timothee Chalamet) meets Oliver (Armie Hammer), a graduate student serving as an intern for Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg) at their summer home in northern Italy. In the subsequent months, Elio and Oliver’s relationship develops into a romance filled with tenderness and sensuality. The film captures all the important elements of a first love from the posturing and deceiving to the action of falling in love itself to the ultimate heartbreak.

Call Me By Your Name is a work of art. From the stunning visuals shot in Crema, Italy to Guadagnino’s gorgeous use of color and lighting, the film transports viewers to late 20th century Italy. The visual beauty of the film is rivaled solely by the film’s storyline itself. While chemistry might be the most seemingly difficult cinematic component for two actors to achieve, Chalamet and Hammer navigate through the entire film with a pulsing, electric bond. The brilliant performances by each actor is what helps Call Me By Your Name stand out. Hammer and Stuhlbarg’s performances are honest and compelling. Chalamet, the 22-year-old Brooklyn native, is on another level is his breakout performance. He navigates Elio’s turbulent summer with remarkable vulnerability that shows incredible, innate talent. If Chalamet is able to continue to act at the level he did in Call Me By Your Name, then mark my words – this film marks only the beginning of an illustrious career for the up-and-comer.

  1. Dunkirk (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% ):

In May of 1940, German troops slowly advanced throughout France and surrounded Allied troops on the northern coast of France, on the beaches of Dunkirk. Using civilian ships and civilian captains, over 300,000 Allied soldiers were slowly evacuated and brought back across the English Channel and into England. The film, directed by the genius Christopher Nolan, is a fragmented telling of the rescue operation that sporadically yet methodically flips between unrelated characters that all play a role in the battle.

Dunkirk is a war film like no other. While it can sometimes be difficult to follow in the beginning, Nolan uses craft and precise technique to tell a horrifically terrifying yet hopeful story. It will ultimately not be chosen for Best Picture, however, because of the incredible competition in the category.   

  1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93% ):

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) months after her teenage daughter’s brutal rape and murder. Even though it has been seven months since the initial crime, the local police force, led by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and racist, malicious cop Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), has yet to name a suspect or produce much progress in the investigation. Because they have made no headway, Hayes publicly goes after the cops by posting controversial messages on three of the town’s billboards. A tale of dark comedy and revenge, Three Billboards is a grotesque and sometimes shocking viewing experience.

The acting in Three Billboards is arguably one of the few redeeming aspects of the movie. McDormand remarkably portrays a grieving mother who is hell-bent on revenge with no regard for her actions’ consequences. The fatal problem with Three Billboards, however, is the plot. The film’s story line relies too much on crazy coincidences and turn of events. While the use of one or two coincidences can be helpful for the plot, Three Billboards is full of them. Recent controversy has also erupted over the character of Officer Dixon and whether he deserves his redemption arc after consistently showing abuse of power and racism. While it is a unique and interesting story, there are too many holes in the film for it to be considered one of this year’s best picture.

  1. The Shape of Water (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92% ):

The Shape of Water, which takes place during the height of the Cold War in a governmental lab in Baltimore, follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute cleaning lady at the lab. While cleaning a high-security section, she discovers one of the government’s greatest secrets: a mysterious creature that seems to be half-amphibian, half-man (Doug Jones). What follows is a blend of many genres that tracks Elisa’s romance with the creature and their escape from a brutal government who sets out to kill the creature.

The Shape of Water arguably has the most hype going into the Oscars, so I was thrilled to see it (it was the last movie that I got the chance to see). However, I was left disappointed by the movie and confused by all the acclaim it has received. While almost everything about the movie was solid (including the acting, directing, costume, set design, and stunning visual effects), I was left bewildered by the relationship that Elisa and the amphibian man develop. While it makes sense that two beings which are both misunderstood and oppressed would connect, Elisa and the amphibian man lacked chemistry. If the movie spent a little less time on the subplots of Russian spies and national security, then the movie would most likely be beautiful instead of lackluster.

  1. Darkest Hour (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86% ):

The Darkest Hour follows Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman) in his first, and arguably most treacherous, month as Prime Minister of a nation engulfed in the perils of World War II. The film begins with the ousting of Neville Chamberlain, a misguided politician more concerned with the well-being of his nation than the fate of all of Europe. Following Chamberlain’s resignation as Prime Minister, the Conservative Party sets forth Winston Churchill, a resilient, strong leader with a tricky accent and a proclivity for cigars and daytime drinking. The remainder of the film follows Churchill through May of 1940, a month filled with uncertainty in England as Parliament is split on whether to pursue peace talks with Germany or dedicate all resources to victory in Europe over fascism. In addition to the partisan battles, Churchill must handle the 300,000 British soldiers trapped by German forces in the town of Dunkirk, France.

The entire film of The Darkest Hour is propped up on the acting of Oldman. In a brilliant piece of work, Oldman undergoes both a physical and mental transformation that showcases perhaps Oldman’s best work ever and the work that might ultimately get him his first Oscar. The film is lucky to have Oldman because the plot sometimes feels lethargic and drawn out. Luckily while the plot may be tiresome, Churchill’s presences remains a colorful historical figure that is fascinating to see on screen.

  1. Phantom Thread  (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%):

Phantom Thread follows the love life of Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis), a notable high-fashion dress designer in the glamorous world on 1950’s London. Due to his eccentric tendencies and strict work schedule, Woodcock lives a bachelor’s life with a revolving door of women circulating constantly. His sister and closest ally, Cyril (Leslie Manville), often witnesses and predicts the crashing of each relationship. Woodcock’s lifestyle is put to the test however when he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), who captures Woodcock’s attention both as a muse and a potential wife.

While the film is beautiful in its cinematography, costume and score, the pacing of the film is incredibly slow. A lot of plot occurs in the 130 minute film but it feels so agonizingly slow to watch. This is not to take away from the performances of Lewis and Krieps, who strongly resembles a young Meryl Streep. The two actors are dealt with challenging performances and they execute their roles remarkably with both accuracy and creativity. Regardless of its beauty, Phantom Thread is just a little too slow for my taste.  

  1. The Post (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88% ) :

The Post, directed by Steven Spielberg, is a period piece surrounding the Washington Post’s reporting of the Pentagon Papers, specifically from the viewpoints of publisher Kay Graham (Meryl Streep) and editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). In the film, the New York Times is prohibited from publishing any further work on the Pentagon Papers from a court injunction. So then in swoops the Washington Post, which was not yet a national newspaper at the time. The reporters, editors, lawyers and owners of the Post must decide on whether they will go forward with publishing the papers as the entire nation weights in on the battle between freedom and the press and national security. The Post documents a historical moment for both journalism and modern politics.

While the film does an exceptional job depicting such a critical turning point for the United States, it just feels obvious. There is little creativity done on the part of Spielberg in telling this story, and it probably could have been just as effective in documentary form. Is it a good representation of history? Sure. Is it worthy of a Best Picture nomination? No. In an era where journalism is under threat, it is nice that a film portrays the importance of the work that journalists do on a daily basis. But to that point, it also feels like the film is pandering to the general public’s current political fears and frustrations. In short, Spielberg could take a few notes from Christopher Nolan on how to direct a compelling, fresh historical piece.  

Major Awards: Predictions vs. Who Should Win:

Best Picture:

Who Will Win: This is one of the toughest categories to predict right now with both The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in the running. However, I predict that The Shape of Water will take the coveted award home due to the recent racial controversy over Three Billboards.

Who Should Win: Get Out should win the top prize for the night. Peele creates a masterpiece that reflects society beautifully while also paying great attention to artistic choices.  

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Who Will Win: Without a doubt, Frances McDormand will win this award.

Who Should Win: Frances McDormand. She is absolutely stunning in her role of Mildred Hayes and unequivocally deserves all the praise she has been receiving.

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Who Will Win: Gary Oldman is a shoe in for this award, which would be his first Academy Award in his long, illustrious career.

Who Should Win: While Gary Oldman’s acting in The Darkest Hour is compelling, Timothee Chalamet’s work in Call Me By Your Name is remarkable and undoubtedly the stand out performance of the year.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Who Will Win: While there is competition between Laurie Metcalf of Lady Bird, and Allison Janney of I, Tonya, ultimately it will be Janney who takes home the award.

Who Should Win: While Janney’s work in I, Tonya is bold and explosive, I prefer Metcalf’s more subtle and relaxed acting in Lady Bird. 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: 

Who Will Win: Sam Rockwell has been a favorite this awards season for his role of Officer Dixon in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This trend is most certain to continue. 

Who Should Win: Despite all of the controversy that surrounds his character, Sam Rockwell is incredible in Three Billboards. 


Who Will Win: While there was plenty of great directing this award season, Guillermo del Toro will ultimately receive the prize for his work in The Shape of Water.

Who Should Win: Jordan Peele has a slim shot at winning but deserves much more praise than he has received. 

The 90th Academy Awards will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel and take place on March 4 at 7 p.m. CST on ABC.