While this was a slightly down year for movies, the Best Picture Oscar-nominated films gave us some extraordinary stories that moved us and challenged us in significant ways.
I’ve spoken with friends and colleagues who have staked eight of these nine films as the best movie of the year. For me, there are only two that deserve that possible distinction, but these are all good to great films that have allowed important historical moments to illuminate our current times (Dunkirk, Darkest Hour, The Post), showed us the depths, contours, and complexities of love and relationships (Call Me By Your Name, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread) or caused us to wrestle with important social issues (Get Out, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri).
Here are my rankings of this year’s Best Picture nominees:
9. Phantom Thread
I love Paul Thomas Anderson and I love Daniel Day-Lewis and I especially love PTA and DDL together, but…I didn’t love Phantom Thread. It’s beautifully crafted and well-acted, but more of a chore than a joy to experience. I’ve hated only one PTA movie (Inherent Vice) so I didn’t dislike this film as much as I just endured it. I found it merely good, not close to great, and it filled me with some sorrow that this might be Day-Lewis’ last film. Come back, Daniel, come back!
8. Call Me by Your Name
This beautiful, poignant film reveals the complexity of the human heart. GQ Magazine calls Timothee Chalamet “a once-in-a-generation talent” and they are correct. He ranks with Leonardo DiCaprio and the late River Phoenix as one of the most extraordinary actors of any generation. Anchored by his star-making performance, Call Me by Your Name is a story of finding—and losing—unexpected love during a summer in Northern Italy. It gets the little details and the big themes right. A visually and emotionally gorgeous movie, it is perhaps too slight to rank in the top half of list, but a sublime work of art nonetheless.
7. The Darkest Hour
It may not be the best movie of the year, but it boasts the best performance of the year and it is among the most essential films in many years. Gary Oldman becomes Churchill in a way that makes you ache for morally courageous leadership in our present day. With overwhelming force arrayed against him and internal pressure to appease the monster at his door, Churchill stood strong, mobilized a nation, and literally saved the world. Everyone needs to see this film.
6. The Post
We needed The Post this year with its fierce defense of a free press and the dogged journalists who speak truth to power. It’s a good story told well by Spielberg featuring confident performances by Streep and Hanks. Along with Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, it is essential viewing that tells us how the lessons of the past are essential to the present moment.
5. Lady Bird
Take the typical high school comedy and deepen the characters, add subtext to the writing and direction, and mix in Oscar-caliber performances and this is the result. The Edge of Seventeen came close last year, but it was really Lady Bird that showed us what a teen comedy could be in its fullness.
4. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Perhaps the most polarizing film of the bunch, my colleague Jonathan Hetterly hated this morality play by Martin McDonagh. For me, the film succeeds as a depiction of complex characters who must wrestle with this central question: in the face of an unjust world, will you be consumed with rage and revenge or surrender to peace and forgiveness? Frances McDormand’s fiery performance as a bitterly angry, deeply flawed woman is magnetic and powerful.
The film leaves a mark long after it’s over.
3. Get Out
What a triumph! A horror film that is funny and also succeeds as social commentary. First-time director Jordan Peele pulls off a spectacular win that features a knockout performance by Daniel Kaluuya, razor-sharp writing, and one of the most original stories in years. Like Lady Bird, it elevates an entire genre in an awesome way.
2. The Shape of Water
Yes, it’s the best fish sex movie of the year, but it’s also something much more. This weird, magical adult fairy tale is such a transporting experience, you lose yourself in the experience of a mute woman who falls in love with a sea creature. As improbable as it seems, Guillermo del Toro’s mash-up of Creature From The Black Lagoon and an old-fashioned love story somehow works. A film that will stand the test of time, The Shape of Water says our differences should connect us more than divide us. It’s an improbable love story for an improbable time.
On the beach, on the water, and in the air, the true story of Dunkirk is told with a disorienting immediacy we haven’t experienced in a war film. Bombs rain down on thousands of British and French soldiers trapped on the beaches, a torpedo rips through the hull of a ship, boats capsize, oil-slicked water ignites, fighter planes dogfight up above—all while Hans Zimmer’s tic-tic-tic score makes your heart pound. One of the best war movies ever made, Christopher Nolan’s masterwork brings you into the experience of battle like no other. This powerful film is a modern classic and the best movie of the year.