Inside the Heated Race for the Best Picture Oscar
Our Marlow Stern (senior entertainment editor) and Kevin Fallon (senior entertainment writer) debate the big issues ahead of the Academy Awards, airing March 4 on ABC.
Marlow: We are finally (almost) here. The 90th Academy Awards. We’ve screamed to the heavens over who should have been nominated, debated the year’s biggest controversies (ugh, Ryan Seacrest), pondered whether the Oscars—with its lagging ratings—even matters anymore, and put our best feet forward in the snooze-worthy acting categories, where we definitely don’t see eye to eye with the Academy (#Chalamaniacs).
Kevin: Is than an actual fan-army name? If not, it should be.
Marlow: We can be the co-founders. Anyway, we’ve arrived at the two biggest awards of the night: Best Director and Best Picture. Let’s start with director. Not a lot of drama here: Guillermo del Toro has it in the bag, right? He won the DGA, and the DGA winner has gone on to win the Best Director Oscar 62 times in its 69-year history.
Kevin: I’ve learned never to bring a bag to the Oscars. I have been wrong about Best Picture each of the last three years. I have a better track record with Best Director, and do think del Toro will win. I would like to say that Christopher Nolan stands a chance of surprising for putting so much muscle into the most technically-challenging-and-making-it-look-seamless work with Dunkirk—and he’d deserve it, too—but there’s something so simultaneously wondrous and classic about the way del Toro put together Shape of Water. A throwback to Old Hollywood romance starring a monster that was as necessarily familiar as it was bizarrely thrilling.
Marlow: I enjoyed The Shape of Water and it is beautifully shot—particularly that throwback song-and-dance number toward the end of the film, and the bathroom-lovemaking sequence (although it would have been fun to see how much heat this sea monster was packing).
Kevin: I am both horrified and delighted to inform you that you are not the only one to wonder that. Behold the Shape of Water dildo.
Marlow: Dios mio. Dildos notwithstanding, Del Toro is such a charming, gentle guy, and imbues his films with an irresistible childlike whimsy. And like you, I was impressed by Nolan’s technical mastery in crafting Dunkirk, whose frenetic battle sequences were on a par with the opening moments of Saving Private Ryan. But if I were a member of the Academy, I’d vote for Paul Thomas Anderson, perhaps our greatest living director, for Phantom Thread. That movie completely floored me. The guy wasn’t nominated for Boogie Nights, didn’t win for perhaps the greatest movie of the 21st century in There Will Be Blood, and there is no one better.
Kevin: It’s an interesting race. The frontrunners are three of our finest directors, all overdue, and each specializing in wildly different kinds of filmmaking.
Marlow: [Hugh Grant voice] Wouuuuld we say Guillermo del Toro is one of our “finest” directors? His last two films were Crimson Peak and Pacific Rim—both eh. And he directed Mimic, although Harvey Scissorhands may be to blame for that monstrosity. Anyway…
Kevin: Then there’s Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, both historic nominations in terms of representation, but also because their films—a horror movie commenting on race in America and a female-centric coming-of-age movie—represent cinematic voices that the Academy almost never recognizes in this category. These stats are starting to matter less and less, but like you said, the Oscars’ Best Director pick has matched with the DGA winner 13 of the last 15 years, and this year the DGA went to del Toro.
Marlow: Del Toro FTW, and a del Toro win would mean that all three of the “Three Amigos”—Cuaron, Inarritu and del Toro—will be Best Director Oscar winners. Gerwig became only the fifth woman to ever be nominated for Best Director (insane), while Peele is the fifth black person to ever be nominated for Best Director (insane). Though the Academy has increased its POC membership from 8 percent to 13 percent over the past two years it still has a lot of work to do, so this year’s nominees were a good start. Let’s talk Best Picture—which, in a strange twist, is maybe the most hotly-contested category this year. I hope Three Billboards and The Post don’t come away with the hardware, because I found both those movies to be mediocre for very different reasons.
Kevin: I loved The Post.
Marlow: It’s so terribly saccharine! And the ending is one of the worst of not only the Best Picture nominees, but any movie this year.
Kevin: Call me Meryl in a kaftan, because we’ve gone toe-to-toe on this one before (you’re a harrumphing Hanks-as-Bradlee in this scenario) and my voice will not be silenced! But as for the race in general, whether or not it’s actually an open race, there’s at least this feeling that it is, which is rare and exciting. I guess the idea is that The Shape of Water, Get Out, Dunkirk, and Three Billboards all have feasible shots. But I think it’s definitely Three Billboards that wins. It’s won SO MANY other awards at this point.
Marlow: Ugh, I think you’re right. That movie is a B-/C+ and a total mess.
Kevin: The racial messiness and backlash has completely whirred by so many other award voters’ heads, and I see no reason to believe that the Oscars will be any different. It’s a film that purports to loudly say big things about race, gender, sexual assault, and the heartland, but doesn’t articulate any of those things with any discernible punctuation. That’s arguably not a good thing, but it’s also the reason I think it will win. Voters can feel satisfied that they’re voting for an issue-y movie, and it’s kind of a Choose Your Own Issue situation, where each person can point to the part of the movie that they think spoke to them. But, my god, save me from the think pieces when this win happens. (And, again, I think it will.)
Marlow: Sam Rockwell character arc aside, here’s my issue with the film: it’s utterly convinced of its status as a blistering deconstruction of present-day American-heartland misogyny, underpolicing, and racism, when it is nothing more than a fantasy; a funhouse-mirror view of these not-so-United States by an outsider that feels like a series of strung-together monologues from different films. That McDormand rant at a priest is nicely done, but…why was it in this movie? It feels like something McDonagh (who is Irish, naturally) had intended for a different project and decided to shoehorn-in. I think the Three Billboards backlash has been pretty overblown, however. It’s just not a good movie!
Kevin: Backlash to the backlash is when you know that the award season’s been too long.
Marlow: So, so long. Now, I ranked Phantom Thread as my No. 1 movie of the year but think Get Out deserves to win Best Picture, if that makes sense. When people look back on 2017 in film, Peele’s will be the movie that they remember the most; that is the most culturally significant.
Kevin: Yeah. It’s hardly novel to point out that the movies that win Best Picture are rarely the ones that stand the test of time.
Marlow: Who still fucks with Argo? Ben Affleck doesn’t even fuck with Argo.
Kevin: Get Out will be remembered as the year’s most significant movie among the nominees. Call Me by Your Name will last because of the emotional impact it had. And my friend Joe Reid wrote a good piece for Decider arguing that Lady Bird is actually the movie we’ll still be watching in 20 years. Can’t you already see yourself lazing on the couch on a Sunday afternoon catching it on whatever version of cable we have then, or overhearing the next generation of teens gushing about how much they relate to Lady Bird? That said, none of those three are going to win. Do you think anything can take it from Three Billboards?
Marlow: Love Lady Bird. I think Get Out has a legitimate shot with the Academy’s new blood—they gave it to an emotionally-wrought drama tackling issues of blackness, homosexuality and masculinity in Moonlight ($27.8M domestic) last year over the crowd-pleasing La La Land ($151M domestic), after all. So I’m hoping the situation gets fuckin’ handled.