If you don’t know what movies to watch over spring break, catch the Oscars on Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC. Besides offering suggestions for your cinematic watchlist, it can be fun to see your celebrity crushes in fancy — or weird — evening wear, to hate yourself because you’re not talented enough to deserve a golden statue, and to participate in the conversation about American culture that takes place at the Academy Awards. I like to think of myself as a movie buff, and each year I watch more of the nominees. Wondering what’s the best of the best? Here’s my analysis of the top categories.
Best Supporting Actress
The top candidates for best supporting actress play fierce mothers. As Laurie Metcalf plays Lady Bird’s mother, the scenes with her daughter are charged and waiting to snap. At one moment she and her daughter are getting along, and the next moment suddenly screaming at each other. They work together to express the bipolar nature of the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter.
On the other hand, Allison Janney’s performance as Tonya Harding’s cruel and demanding mother matches Metcalf’s performance. The sobering aura of “I, Tonya” is partially founded on the intensity and conflict between Janney’s character and Margot Robbie’s Tonya (who’s also nominated for lead actress).
Though all the nominees for best actress in a leading role deserve the nomination, Frances McDormand stands out for her performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a strong-willed and darkly comic woman seeking justice for her daughter who was raped and burned alive. She rents three billboards for a year to call out the police chief by name for neglecting her daughter’s case. Through her mix of comedy and intensity, McDormand plays a vital role in heightening the complex script that explores the relationship between citizens and the police department of a small town (kind of like Hillsdale).
Saoirse Ronan would also be fit to win this category for capturing the complex life of a high-school girl in “Lady Bird.” This warm, funny, and authentic movie definitely stands on Ronan’s performance.
Best Supporting Actor
The two top candidates for best supporting actor come from “Three Billboards.” Sam Rockwell plays Jason Dixon, the “bad cop” and arch nemesis of McDormand’s character. The complexity and depth of the movie’s treatment of law enforcement and justice stand on Rockwell’s — again — darkly comic portrayal of a racist and hot-tempered cop.
Woody Harrelson earns second best for his portrayal of the police chief. Though McDormand directs public blame on Harrelson’s character, he is the mediator between Mildred and Dixon’s rage, and he balances Dixon by playing the “good cop.” These three actors deserve to win for their joint success in playing off each other’s brilliance.
It is a different challenge for an actor to resemble a historical figure credibly than it is to create a character from the words in a script, and Gary Oldman mirrors Winston Churchill flawlessly in “Darkest Hour.” But I’m rooting for Timothee Chalamet for his performance in “Call Me by Your Name” because of his youth and charisma: Only 22 years old, he charmingly and thoughtfully graces the screen. Chalamet’s role is extremely demanding because of its portrayal of sexuality and its role in communicating the script’s drama with co-star Armie Hammer through silence, subtleties, and body language.
Best Adapted Screenplay
“Call Me by Your Name” deserves best adapted screenplay for its delicacy. The script has so much weight because of the characters’ silence. Each line is vitally important, yet the script’s brilliance is as much due to the words held back as the words spoken. The father’s final monologue oozes with grace, poetry, and wisdom as it appropriately concludes the movie.
Best Original Score
“Phantom Thread” is the only nominee I haven’t seen, but I’m hoping it wins best original score; its contenders don’t measure up. The music of “Star Wars” is barely original, “Three Billboards” is unextraordinary, “Dunkirk” sounds like the rest of Hans Zimmer’s work, and “The Shape of Water” is monotonous and thematically deceptive because of its Parisian feel. Junior Nic Rowan, who reviewed “Phantom Thread” for the Collegian, said the film’s composer Jonny Greenwood “understands that the visual elements and the aural elements have to work together so much that you don’t even notice that there was ever a division between the two.” I’ll take his word on it.
Best Costume Design
Costume design could appropriately be awarded to “Phantom Thread,” a movie about a veteran fashion designer in 1950s London, but the award could also go to “Beauty and the Beast” for its fantastical magnificence and its reflection of the original animation’s costumes.
Best Production Design
“Beauty and the Beast” could also earn best production design for similar reasons, though it is rightfully up against “Darkest Hour” for its details of historical architecture. The sets of “The Shape of Water” express the spirit of Cold War America; and the main character’s apartment, the creature’s containment room, and the bad-guy boss’s office are cinematic motifs in themselves.
Best editing is a toss-up between “Baby Driver,” “Dunkirk,” and “I, Tonya.” Editing in “Baby Driver” synchronizes the soundtrack with action. “Dunkirk” expresses the timeliness and suspense of the historical event. The editing in “I, Tonya” delightfully connects the testimonials given by the characters in present day with the true events of the ’90s, and it also allows the characters to jump in and out of the fourth wall between the actors and the audience.
“Three Billboards” deserves to win. Though the sensitive viewer may find it distasteful, it’s a story that needs to be told and to be absorbed by Americans in particular. “Call Me by Your Name” and “Lady Bird” also deserve the award for their insight into adolescence and what it means to come of age. All three films are artful and insightful.
For those of you returning to Hillsdale next year, Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor shows the Oscar nominees for shorts and documentaries. Take advantage of this resource. If you love movies, see the nominees and make your own judgements.