The 2018 Oscars Are Coming! 14 Nominated Films in 14 (Long) Sentences

The Academy Awards will celebrate the “best” in cinema for the 90th time on March 4. But first, some final words on 14 of the movies up for gold…

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Timothee Chalamet in Call Me by Your Name (Sony Pictures Classics)

1. Roman J. Israel, Esq. aims to make a timely statement about social obligation vs. financial ambition (clap clap — admirable!), but Denzel Washington’s study in conscientiousness and self-consciousness — a pontificating defense attorney who could learn a few things about the power of persuasion from the pontificating defense attorney played by his Fences co-star Viola Davis in the TV series How to Get Away with Murder — is the sort of Hollywood quirky that can’t quite pass for someone who would actually exist in real life.

One Oscar nomination: Best Actor

2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s backlash charge of racism for not actively tackling racism are irrelevant, because it’s not a message movie but rather a revenge fantasy with colorful characters who, unlike Roman J. Israel, Esq., aren’t intended to mirror actual living, breathing people, not even the ones in small Midwestern towns like Ebbing, Missouri.

Seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actor

3. Phantom Thread intriguingly reflects the power struggle in heterosexual relationships, but Daniel Day-Lewis fails to find the charm in the lead character (too un-rootable to be the crux of a movie’s hard sell), who should have been secondary to the naive but devious female lead, who should have been played by a young European A-list force-of-womanhood like Oscar winner Alicia Vikander.

Six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actress

4. There’s no real plot in Call Me By Your Name, nor any socially aware LGBTQ spin like the one that helped make Moonlight last year’s Best Picture winner (gay black men are just like everyone else — they fall in love), but rather, simply (but not simplistically) a small perfectly written, acted, and directed portrait of boy meets man, boy gets man, boy loses man to the heterosexual edicts of the time.

Four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor

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Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

5. The Shape of Water is well-acted (with the exception of a scenery demolishing Michael Shannon as the big baddie), but it’s hard to get invested in its near-instant beauty-and-the-beast love match (What do they actually see in each other?) when the film never plants the seeds from which true love, and not merely co-dependent I’m-an-outsider-and-you’re-an-outsider-too infatuation, truly blooms.

13 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress

6. I, Tonya works as popcorn entertainment, but it’s too invested in explaining Tonya Harding and absolving her of heartlessness to be taken seriously as a movie about underdog spirit and too dead set on being a black comedy for the domestic abuse angle to be taken seriously as anything but a plot point to achieve the first goal.

Three Oscar nominations, including Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress

7. I admire the The Florida Project’s fly-on-the-dirty-wall documentary style, but it’s hard for me to love a movie with a heroine who is even less root-able than Phantom Thread’s Reynolds Woodcock that expects you to feel for her, despite her despicable acts, because she’s poor and has an adorable young daughter.

One Oscar nomination: Best Supporting Actor

8. Lady Bird is probably the most entertaining of the films nominated in the main categories, and it proves you can still get Oscar’s attention with just some actors and a camera and absolutely no eat-your-broccoli socially aware angles or aspirations.

Five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Supporting Actress

9. Do the white people who have embraced Get Out all the way to its quartet of Oscar nominations understand what the horror movie that’s so much more than a horror movie is actually saying about them?

Four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor

10. Mudbound is too self-conscious in its depiction of race relations in the sharecropper/Jim Crow south and, like so many period pieces about race relations in the United States, too focused on the point of view of the white characters for the black ones to come across as much more than stock put-upon Deep South African-Americans.

Four Oscar nominations, including Best Supporting Actress

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Gary Oldman Darkest Hour (Focus Features)

11. Darkest Hour is the kind of The Kings Speech-style Oscar-bait fare that hopefully will continue to go out of style — but unfortunately, not before Gary Oldman snags the Best Actor Oscar that should be going home with Call Me by Your Name’s Timothee Chalamet.

Six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor

12. The Post should have made Meryl Streep work a bit harder for her 21st Oscar nomination by focusing its narrative on her character Katherine Graham, who is a lot more fascinating than the should-they-or-shouldn’t-they dilemma that the The Washington Post faced before publishing the Pentagon Paper’s proof that several U.S. Presidential administrations, going all the way back to Harry S. Truman’s, misled the public about the Vietnam War.

Two Oscar nominations, Best Picture and Best Actress

13. As a romantic dramedy, The Big Sick is not inherently Oscar-caliber, but I wish the Academy had recognized Holly Hunter and Ray Romano for delivering supporting performances that totally sidestepped all of the stereotypes one might have expected of movie parents meeting their hospitalized daughter’s Pakistani ex-boyfriend for the first time.

One Oscar nomination: Best Original Screenplay

14. I remember The Disaster Artist’s Oscar-nominated screenplay less than I do James Franco’s tragicomic lead performance as a delusional auteur and his spot-on Polish-American accent, but he was undeservedly Time’s Up’d out of the Best Actor race, paving the Oscar road to Denzel Washington’s second consecutive nomination.

One Oscar nomination: Best Adapted Screenplay

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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