Check Out These 14 Oscar-Worthy Films That Are A Cut Above The Rest
Power-packed portrayals, sizzling theatre runs, bewitching biopics, scandals of epic proportions, record-bending achievements, real-life stories, unrequited love, sports dramas…all this and more kept the audience glued to their seats in the last 12 months. With many of the films looking at a February-and-after release in India, the time is ripe to cherry-pick the juiciest performances from last year’s wealth of plum offerings; from astute women directors (like Niki Caro, Patty Jenkins, and Sofia Coppola) and the masters — Scott, Soderbergh, Spielberg, Nolan — to mavericks (Darren Aronofsky, Guillermo del Toro, Paul Thomas Anderson) and relative newcomers (Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig, Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, Hugh Welchman and Dorota Kobiela)…. And you absolutely can’t afford to miss any of it.
The Shape Of Water
Only Guillermo del Toro could have dreamt up this storyline, and thankfully he did; apart from directing, producing and writing the screenplay, that is. Considered to be his magnum opus, and his best since the ethereal Pan’s Labyrinth (2012), this one has picked up a whopping 13 nominations, just one short of the record 14 shared by La La Land (2016), Titanic (1997) and All About Eve (1950). One of the most-awaited and talked-about films of the year, this unconventional love story explores a ‘connection’ between an amphibian man and a mute woman (portrayed to perfection by Sally Hawkins). It’s safe to say that fans, who have been waiting patiently for del Toro’s genius to resurface, are quite satisfied with the shape of things to come this award season. Expected to sweep the Oscars, this one is a shoo-in for Best Picture and most of the technical awards. Simple yet radical, universal yet alien, romantic yet disturbing, this poetic potboiler thrives on its spirit of non-conformity — just as is expected out of a piece of art.
Oscar nominations count: 13; for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing and of course Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
India release: February 16, 2018.
Trust this little birdie when she tells you that Lady Bird is the best feel-good movie of the year gone by. Three-times Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (remember Keira Knightley’s little sister and the root of all problems in 2007’s Atonement?) is super likeable in her role as a headstrong young woman who shares a turbulent relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). Ronan’s deadpan delivery and unflinching conviction in herself rule and are reminiscent of the worlds a Wes Anderson or a Noah Baumbach inhabit (and which I strongly suspect her character Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson would fit right into). Little surprise then that the coming-of-age Oscar contender has been written and directed by their close collaborator, 34-year-old actor-writer Greta Gerwig, who has co-written and been seen in Baumbach films like Greenberg (2010) and Mistress America (2015). Moreover, the next project we will hear her in turns out to be Anderson’s much-awaited stop-motion animated feature Isle of Dogs, featuring his stable of regulars. A semi-autobiographical comedy by a spirited young woman, Lady Bird exudes a shiny joie de vivre that is sure to add a sparkle to your day. And it is particularly apt at the moment, given the current wave of events (#MeToo, The Silence Breakers, Time’s Up) rocking the virtual and real worlds…. Watch it for both Ronan and Gerwig.
Oscar nominations count: 4; for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
India release: unknown.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Another Oscar favourite, this one packs a punch, thanks to stellar performances by Academy Award winner and five-time nominee Frances McDormand and the explosive Sam Rockwell, who’s finally found a script with which to showcase his talent. In this blackest of comedies about a mother (McDormand) seeking justice for her young daughter’s rape and subsequent murder, McDormand is pitted against a racist cop played ably by Rockwell (where else but Missouri). Although Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (yes, it’s a mouthful) has raked up quite a bit of controversy, particularly pertaining to the treatment of Rockwell’s character and its racist-white-male’s-struggle-and-redemption arc, it is still worth a watch, if only for the star cast comprising McDormand, Rockwell and the ever-effective Woody Harrelson, all of whom are up for Oscars.
Oscar nominations count: 7; for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role for both Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score.
India release: February 23, 2018.
Allison Janney is a genius. If you haven’t seen her in The West Wing, you’re likely to have seen her in the sitcom Mom, where she plays recovering addict and mother to Anna Faris. In this film that is based on true events, she plays ‘monster mom’ to Olympian and US national champion skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie has acted the hell out of her role). Taking us from Harding’s childhood to the tragic turn of events that led to her ban from the sport, this one will have you mulling over how fact is truly more dramatic than fiction. Robbie is rock-solid in a role that might just win her a Best Actress Oscar (we are rooting for both McDormand and Robbie, and Janney in the Supporting category). If you dig biopics, this one should be at the top of your list.
Oscar nominations count: 3; for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Film Editing.
India release: unknown.
After Albert Finney, Rod Taylor, Timothy Spall and John Lithgow, it’s now Gary Oldman’s turn to play Churchill. Throwing light on his early days as PM, the historical drama lets us in on the POV of the Prime Minister as he steers Britain through one of the most trying periods in history. As the Nazis continue to inch closer to Britain during the second world war, with nearly the whole of Europe under their thumb, Churchill has a choice to make: fight or opt for a negotiated settlement. Finding it difficult to picture the haggard Commissioner Gordon as the rotund British PM, are you? For the notorious method actor, the transformation went well beyond prosthetics. Consuming some 30,000 pounds’ worth of cigars for the role landed Oldman with nicotine poisoning and a colonoscopy. Follow up period-film specialist Joe Wright’s (who incidentally helmed Atonement) labour of love with Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk, about the evacuation of 3,30,000 British and Allied soldiers from the eponymous town in the north of France during World War II — a topic that is also raised in Darkest Hour. Move on to Netflix’s Mudbound, a tragedy about racial tension in the American South, starring double Oscar nominee Mary J. Blige. Following two families — one white and one black — just before, during and after the second world war, the story is narrated with a visceral fierceness by director Dee Rees. This collaboration has brought on a bevy of firsts. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison made history by becoming the first female director of photography to receive an Oscar nomination. It is also the first time that a black-woman-directed film has garnered nominations for black women in these categories. Additionally, Blige is the first person throughout the award show’s history to be nominated for her performance and an original song. Need we say more?
Oscar nominations count for Darkest Hour: 6; for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Make-up and Hair, and Best Costume Design.
India release: January 19, 2018.
Oscar nominations count for Dunkirk: 8; for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design and Best Original Score.
India release: July 21, 2017.
Oscar nominations count for Mudbound: 4; for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Song, Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Cinematography.
India release: unknown; probability of a release on Netflix India.
With Spielberg, Streep and Hanks in your corner (there is only one Spielberg, Streep and Hanks, you know who they are), you’re likely to come out of the theatre smiling or, at least, thinking. And if it’s a true story on top of that, it’s almost certainly geared for success. Generating plenty of Oscar buzz, the story centres around the first major female publisher in America, The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham (Streep), and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), who joined forces to break the news about the Pentagon Papers. Spurred on by the Trump government and its constant efforts to curtail press freedom and propagate mistruths, Spielberg chronicles the trials and tribulations of a woman who has a powerful role thrust upon her. If this is the first time you’re hearing about Graham and the newspaper’s involvement in Watergate, drop whatever you’re doing and hit the internet to read more about the biggest investigative journalistic coup in the last half of the 20th century — way before digitalisation revolutionised the industry.
Oscar nominations count: 2; for Best Picture and — everyone saw this coming — Best Actress In A Leading Role.
India release: showing now.
Call Me By Your Name
Another coming-of-age film, a drama this time, Call Me By Your Name is the final installation in director Luca Guadagnino’s Desire trilogy that comprises I Am Love (2009) and A Bigger Splash (2015). A romance set in the 1980s, the film explores the relationship between 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) and Oliver (Armie Hammer). Starting off with a limited run at four theaters in NYC and LA, the film made a neat 404,874 dollars in its opening weekend, subsequently expanding to 174 theaters by the eighth week. In the UK alone it raked in a cool two million dollars. With a melancholic but realistic ending, this unpretentious portrayal of first love (almost always unrequited) and coming out has all the makings of a modern-day gay classic. Chalamet steals the show in this tale of self-discovery, and has several breakout actor awards to show for it. The runaway success has also paved the way for a sequel or three; Guadagnino hopes to release the first one, which will deal with AIDS, by 2020.
Oscar nominations count: 4; for Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Song.
India release: unknown, screened at the Jio Mami Mumbai Film Festival, 2017.
The Disaster Artist
Tommy Wiseau’s cult film The Room (2003) has one distinction: it’s possibly the worst movie of all time. The only way it will make any semblance of sense is if you watch it as a parody. Right up there with the likes of alarmist film Reefer Madness (1936) and our very own Prem Aggan (1998) or Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon (2003), Wiseau’s unintentional and accidental comedy (he wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film) made him a household name alright. Wiseau remains somewhat of a mystery — piquing further curiosity and adding value to the film as well as his image, and it is this that James Franco intended to cash in on when he took on the role of Wiseau. With plenty of sardonic wit, James directs himself, just as Wiseau once did, in this film based on The Disaster Artist, the eponymous biography documenting the behind-the-scenes shenanigans as penned by Greg Sestero (essayed by Dave Franco), Wiseau’s friend and co-actor in The Room. It has already scored a Golden Globe in the Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy category, and it looks like James — somewhat of a misfit in Hollywood and in news recently for alleged sexual misconduct — has finally gotten the directorial success he always wanted.
Oscar nomination count: 1; for Best Adapted Screenplay.
India release: unknown.
Battle of The Sexes/Borg McEnroe
After all the excitement surrounding Federer’s 20th Grand Slam victory settles down, catch a tennis film, or two. From the directors of Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, comes Battle of The Sexes that revolves around the legendary 1973 match dubbed The Battle Of The Sexes. Born out of a challenge extended to world number 1 and feminist Billy Jean King (Emma Stone) by hustler and former world number 1 Bobby Riggs (Steve Carrell), it went on to become the most-watched sports event of all time, significantly raising the profile of women’s tennis as well as pay in a chauvinistic world. Screaming woman power, this one is a must-watch for all the right reasons. It also forces one to think about how the pay gap continues to exist even half-a-century later.
Borg McEnroe, a multi-language biographical sports drama focusing on the famous rivalry between the unexcitable Björn Borg (Sverrir Gudnason) and the mercurial John McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf), serves up a very watchable 107 minutes. A bit of real footage of the famous 1980 Wimbledon tiebreaker that forms the film’s climax would have been nice, but the film does quite well even without it. Stellan Skarsgård as Borg’s coach is incisive as always — you’ll remember him as Bootstrapp Bill in the Pirates series, Erik Selvig in the Marvel universe, and Lambeau in Good Will Hunting (1997). No wonder his sons Bill (It, 2017) and Alexander (Little Big Lies, 2017) are amassing rave reviews elsewhere.
India release, Battle of The Sexes: unknown.
India release, Borg McEnroe: December 8, 2017.
It being three-times Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis’ last before retiring from the world of movies is reason enough to watch this film. Director, scriptwriter and cinematographer Paul Thomas Anderson (who has previously dished out delicacies like There Will Be Blood, 2007 and The Master, 2012) transports us to 1950s’ England to introduce us to Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis), meticulous master craftsman and fashion designer to British royalty and high society. We are also acquainted with the lovely Lesley Manville and Vicky Krieps, who essay the roles of his sister and muse respectively, and with much elegance. Watch it for a most nuanced performance by one of the greats of our time, a fantastic original score by Jonny Greenwood, and stunning costumes by frequent Anderson collaborator Mark Bridges.
Oscar nominations count: 6; for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Original Score and of course Best Costume Design and Best Actor in a Leading Role.
India release: February 2, 2018.
All the Money In The World
When protagonist Kevin Spacey found himself embroiled in a major controversy last year, director-producer Ridley Scott found himself in a conundrum. The film was set to release in just six weeks, and replacing the two-time Oscar winner is not a mean feat. Finding someone of his calibre with available dates was even trickier. What followed next reads like a movie script. Scott pulled off the perfect coup by getting the powerhouse performer Christopher Plummer to take on the role of J. Paul Getty — undeterred by the publicity material focusing on Spacey as well as Sony’s refusal to extend the release date. Reshooting all the 22 scenes featuring Plummer resulted in many challenges, including long hours and the loss of vital marketing time. Another real-life story, All the Money In The World revolves around the 1973 kidnapping of the billionaire’s grandson and his refusal to pay the 17-million-dollar ransom money. One of the original choices for the role, Plummer has openly doffed his hat to his theatre training that allowed him to memorise the lines so quickly at his age. He’s been nominated for an Oscar three times in this category in the last decade (and has won once, for Beginners in 2012, thereby becoming the oldest winner of a competitive Oscar at 82). With this nomination however he has set a new record by becoming the oldest acting Oscar nominee ever at 88.
Oscar nomination count: 1; Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
India release: January 5, 2018.
Other notable mentions:
The Zookeeper’s Wife
The Big Sick