All posts tagged: 2018 Oscars

The Shape of Water Swims to a 2018 Best Picture Oscar; Let’s Keep the Memory of the Other Films Afloat

The 2018 Academy Award for Best Picture went to The Shape of Water. See previews of what our mostly Notre Dame experts said about The Shape of Water, and all the other stellar nominees below: THE SHAPE OF WATER:  This is the final gift of the movie, a poetic glimpse at eternity. Certainly, one could interpret the poem as speaking about the love between two mortals, two fairy tale lovers. In that case, the poem is a pleasant bromide, an obvious overstatement of the finite love possible between two finite beings. Or, one can read the poem through a more transcendent lens revealing a love even greater than we creatures are capable, a divine love that truly takes the shape of water . . . [READ MORE] GET OUT: One of the most important achievements of Jordan Peele’s film is that it uses satire and horror to comment on race while so effectively telling a story about a protagonist with whom it impossible not to empathize. Peele is keenly aware of the power of a …

The Power of a Story to Reorient Racist Assumptions

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Some people wanna change, some people want to be stronger… faster… cooler. But don’t… please don’t lump me in with that. I don’t give a shit of what color you are, you know. What I want is… deeper. I want…. your eye, man. I want those things you see through. —Jim Hudson, blind art dealer in Get Out 1. Get Out has done something that no other film has likely ever even attempted. Writer and first-time director Jordan Peele has crafted a brilliant social commentary using the genre of horror to illuminate the insidious absurdity of racism, drawing uncanny attention to American society’s commodification and consumption of black bodies. Best known from Key & Peele, his comedic partnership with fellow actor/writer Keegan Michael Key, Peele believes that comedy and horror are connected because, as he says in an interview, “they’re both about the truth . . . If you’re not accessing what feels true, you’re not doing it right.” 2. Chris Washington, a 26-year-old black photographer living …

From Duet to Duel

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Phantom Thread catalogs what happens when love warps from infatuation and inspiration into competition and resentment. Its enthralling characters, enticing setting, masterful acting, and strenuous plot make for a well-deserved Best Picture nomination, if not a provocative discussion-piece for couples in relationship counseling. A man of unyielding boundaries living in the ironclad social system of 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock (Best Actor nominee Daniel Day-Lewis) personifies luxury.[1] He is a couturier of royal proportions, charming, and desiring companionship. But as a self-described “confirmed bachelor,” Reynolds refuses to be pinned down although he is only ever surrounded by women. His closest confidante and business partner is his sister, the hilarious and somewhat terrifying Cyril (Best Supporting Actress nominee Lesley Manville), who inevitably shoos away every woman futilely waiting for Reynolds to return their affections. The film’s Gothic set design accentuates the austere tenor at The House of Woodcock and supplements the film’s most sumptuous asset: its costumes. Head designer (and Oscar nominee) Mark Bridges’ …

An Inverted Victory

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. The much-anticipated military thriller Dunkirk by director Christopher Nolan is not the war film I was expecting. Dunkirk rethinks the genre of military films. We are used to having films about particular historic battles retell a great victory, shed light on some lesser-known heroics, or give us a new perspective on famous events. I expected Dunkirk to go the second and third routes. Dunkirk does give us different angles of the British experience of the famous Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France after their retreat from the rapidly advancing German army. It also focuses on a few characters and their experience of the events. But this is no 21st century version of The Longest Day, the 1962 saga of D-Day. It is effectively the inverse. Where The Longest Day told of the Allied invasion of the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 as the beginning of the Allies’ defeat of the Germany army occupying France, Dunkirk is less a rehashing of …

Democracy Dies in Distortion

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. In late 1965, U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg was embedded with combat troops fighting America’s long, costly and deadly war in South Vietnam. He stayed at their campsite; he witnessed soldiers patrol the thick forest as they were overcome by enemy fire; he reported observations to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. To a few, McNamara admitted the Vietnam War was getting worse instead of progressing. To the press, the defense secretary presented a distorted truth, saying the U.S. was making ground. McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) and U.S. political leaders crafted a story for the U.S. people. Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), an American journalists portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, relentlessly pursued the story. The search for truth comes with tenacious dilemmas and agonizing decisions. Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep) captured the weight of this responsibility as she reckoned with her duty as the first female publisher of The Washington Post. Ellsberg leaked the classified Pentagon Papers, which detailed the nation’s fraught military and political involvements in Vietnam, to The New …

Grace Lurking in the Midst of an All-Consuming Anger

 SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) reads Flannery O’Connor. This is not a defining feature of his, and no neighbor would probably note his reading choice. But to the viewer of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s momentary close-up of A Good Man is Hard to Find in Red’s hands early in the film is full of meaning. I suggest that it may be the key to understanding what this film is trying to say. In spite of the cycles of anger that seem to define and consume the world, there are moments of grace that shake our expectations and show another path. It is up to us to choose whether we will walk that new path, or continue down our current road. Three Billboards is the story of Mildred Hayes (Best Actress nominee Frances McDormand), an acerbic woman who rents the titular billboards outside of her southern town to call attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her teenage daughter. Mildred’s message tries to …

An Accidental Allegory of the Sheep and the Goats

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. The Shape of Water is a strange fairy tale about a mute cleaning lady named Elisa who falls in love with an anthropomorphic river creature. Despite the film’s oddity, and partly because of it, the selfless Elisa shines as a witness of how ordinary acts of charity can lead to unexpected happiness, or, dare I say (?) beatitude, after the pattern described by Christ in the judgment of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25. Elisa is a thirty-something mute woman working maintenance at a government research facility in the 1960’s. One day in a lab where Elisa is cleaning, a new specimen arrives: an Amazonian water creature that looks part human, part fish, and part Pokémon. The scientists in the lab see him as an object of study. His primary captor, Richard Strickland, sees him as an object of disdain. Elisa, his eventual lover, sees him as a creature desperately in need of help. Elisa, One of the Sheep When Elisa encounters the creature for the …

Desire Can Also Be Destructive

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Is it a video? Call Me By Your Name’s final moment is an elegantly enigmatic yet unambiguously poignant shot of Elio (Best Actor nominee Timothée Chalamet) staring into a roaring winter fireplace, transfixed by the memories of his summer romance with Oliver. The long unbroken take as the credits roll over his face is accompanied by the repeated refrain of Sufjan Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon” murmuring its yearning question: “Is it a video? Is it a video?” This last moment crystallizes the course the film charts: the troubling ambiguity of falling in love (or not) with an Other. Call Me By Your Name, based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel, is a tour-de-force portrait of desire which has prompted flurries of controversy concerning power imbalance, pedophilia, agency, and the depiction of queer romance on screen. This review will not attempt to enter those debates, but instead will attempt an explanation of why this film would necessarily raise those discussions. The project of a theological sexual ethics is interested …

Winston Churchill’s Dark Night of the Soul

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Darkest Hour is a compelling dramatization of the life of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the time between the resignation of his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain (which coincided with the German invasion of Holland, Belgium, and France), and Churchill’s famous “We shall never surrender” speech to the House of Commons following the evacuation of the defeated British army at Dunkirk only a few weeks later. During this short period, the Allies experienced their worst defeat of World War II. However, the slow-motion disaster unfolding in France and the low countries is mostly in the background; the focus of the film is on Churchill, and his lonely struggle through Britain’s darkest hour. That struggle may truly be said to be a spiritual one. From the beginning, Churchill must contend not only with the collapse of the Allied forces, but also with the mistrust of his king and growing opposition from his political colleagues, several of whom wish to give up the fight and negotiate a peace with Hitler. The …

Gravity and Grace and Lady Bird

Given its setting in a Catholic high school, Lady Bird is a natural draw for Catholic audiences, especially those who attended Catholic grade schools or high schools. Nearly all of the typical Catholic school jokes are there in some way, shape, or form: nuns performing random spot checks to make sure uniform skirts are the appropriate length, stolen glances between the boys and girls across the aisles during the all-school Masses, even leaving room for the Holy Spirit during school dances. What distinguishes Lady Bird is the fact that these jokes, these moments, are never mean-spirited toward the Catholic school or the Catholic Church as an institution. These moments are wryly-observed, lovingly crafted, and beautifully acted with a quietly joyous humor that disarms audience members who would view the Catholic school with scorn, and thaws audience members who would place the Catholic school on an idealized (and utterly unrealistic) pedestal. Even the moments that could be considered borderline irreverent never cross the line into sacrilegious, because these moments, too, are rooted in truth and joy …