So, acknowledging the complete break in format and content from everything else on this site, here are my personal rankings of the nine Best Picture nominees for the 2018 Academy Awards. Once again the shortsighted fools in the Academy failed to recognize The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.
Tier 3: Bottom of the Barrel - Films I Don't Feel Have Any Business in This Race
9. Phantom Thread
P.T. Anderson directed a film on my lifetime top ten list, in Boogie Nights. It is a masterwork which finds new ways to reward me every time I rewatch it. He followed that with two films I found to be great in their own ways (Magnolia, then Punch-Drunk Love). He hasn't made a film I've liked since. It's been fifteen years. If you'd told me in the late nineties that I'd ever greet news of a new P.T. Anderson film with a groan and a feeling of "Christ, if it gets a nomination I'll have to see it," I would never have believed you. But here we are. This film is turgid and impregnable, a portrait of an unknowable asshole for whom the film never made a case for empathy or interest from me. I was bored out of my mind during most of this.
8. The Post
As a historical event, this is important and trenchant. As a film it is two hours of people taking turns saying "Should we?" "We can't!" "But should we?" "We couldn't possibly!" "But should we?" and on and on forever. It so desperately wants to evoke the feeling of All the President's Men. It does not. This is late-career Spielberg at his laziest, coasting. The repeated "look through the window at Nixon's back while he manages to overact while simply gesticulating during a phone call" scenes were embarrassing. The "Meryl Streep walks down the court steps while a giant crowd of young women look on with admiration and inspiration" bit was naked pandering. I'm over the moon that the Academy sought to nominate a batch of fresh faces in its Best Director category rather than hand a legacy nomination to Spielberg for this. And the watery Ben Bradlee impersonation that Tom Hanks was doing with his voice through the film was distracting and annoying. I spent half of the film clearing my throat vicariously.
7. Darkest Hour
Much the same issues plague this as do The Post, in that it's another film about historical events which are far more interesting than a dramatization thereof. This gets the narrow edge due to Gary Oldman's strong performance as Winston Churchill, but otherwise it hits exactly the beats you'd expect of a Churchill movie and literally nothing more.
Tier 2: The Solid Middle of the Pack
6. Call Me By Your Name
I admire this film a lot more than I like it. But I like it just enough to keep it out of the bottom tier. Timothee Chalamet has a bright career ahead of him, headlining this film with a performance mixing childlike naivete with affected sophistication, struggling to express or even understand his feelings at an age where every feeling is fierce and impassioned, and the stakes couldn't seem higher. I also really liked Michael Stuhlbarg as the young man's father, whose empathy and understanding provided the film's most moving moment. But there just isn't a lot TO this film. If you asked me what it was about, I'm not certain that it was. As good as it is to see the idea of a movie romance evolve with the times, this film lives in the LONG and superior shadow of last year's transcendent Moonlight.
5. The Shape of Water
Easily the most fantastic and otherworldly film in this whole list, and evincing Guillermo del Toro's lifelong love of monster movies as well as his career-long ability to fill the screen with astounding imagery while subverting terms like "monster movie" in creative ways. I wish the central romance didn't feel so rushed, and the determinedly odd Michael Shannon brings his peculiar brand of Michael-Shannon-ness to a silly teeth-gnashing scenery devouring villain role with no ambiguity nor shades of grey whatsoever, which lessens the impact of the big third act confrontation. But Doug Jones is perfect as the possible ancient god from the Amazon rainforests, and is mesmerizing to watch in every frame.
4. Lady Bird
This film is airy and light and largely inconsequential, but it's still really entertaining along the way. It's a guaranteed future trivia answer, as director Greta Gerwig is only the fifth woman ever nominated for Best Director (of whom just one, Kathryn Bigelow, actually took home the trophy, for 2010's The Hurt Locker). As the central mother-daughter pair, Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are magnificent, though Tracy Letts also really impressed me as the family patriarch in each of their corners at once, during their many fights and squabbles. This film has easily the strongest dialogue of any script on this list, as well. Of the two films in this tier which are about being young and confused and trying to pretend you're ready for real life and the real world, this is by far the better.
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The likely frontrunner to win this trophy on Oscar Night, and a powerhouse acting showcase for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell (and to a lesser extent, Woody Harrelson). The script is a howl of grief and impotent rage attempting to claw from a dark place toward daylight. It takes place in the real world, where stories aren't always tied up in neat bows with happy endings for the good guys and proper comeuppance for the lesser. I wish I didn't have the few niggles with the film that I do; I'd love to have it in the next tier of films instead of topping this one. But one character turns on a dime from outright indefensible villainy to supposedly empathetic and enlightened, and it rings false and phony to me. Also, there are no less than THREE different scenes set to melancholy voice-over from a character reading a series of posthumous letters sent to other characters. Three! Was it one for each billboard? I have no idea. I do know that it was unfortunately lazy writing in a film which had otherwise fared much better.
Tier 1: The Unimpeachable Top of the Class, For Which I Have No Complaints
2. Get Out
Jordan Peele is just the third filmmaker in history to garner Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay nominations for a first film. It couldn't happen to a more deserving film. Enthralling and uncomfortable and skin-crawlingly scary. I couldn't be more delighted to see the Academy open its doors to an exemplary film from the horror genre, generally (and often rightly) ignored. In any other year it would top this list, were it not for...