Films to watch before the 2018 Oscars
From 'The Shape of Water' to 'Wonder Woman,' these are the heavy favorites for making history at the 2018 Academy Awards.
On Sunday, March 4, 2018, the world of Hollywood will set its eyes firmly upon the Dolby Theatre for the 90th Academy Awards. Hosted by TV host Jimmy Kimmel, this year's awards will honor the best in film in 24 categories. Naturally, much is already being made about the contenders for Best Picture, a time-honored guessing game spotlighting the most intriguing, thrilling, creative and moving films to hit theaters over the last year.
Who will earn a place at this celebrated table when nominations are announced on Jan. 23, 2018? Below are a handful of critically acclaimed productions we believe are worthy of your attention ahead of Hollywood's big night.
Could "Wonder Woman" become the first superhero film to ever earn a nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards? The film, starring Israeli Gal Gadot as the sword-wielding warrior princess, was not only a critical and box office triumph, but also a global phenomenon that continues to empower and inspire a new generation of young women. Add in praise for direction, screenplay, performances and score, and it's easy to see why "Wonder Woman" may yet have one more record to slash on Oscar night.
"I don't want to play a damsel in distress that needs to be saved. I don't like it when women in the movies are shown as the victims," Gadot said in one of her first "Wonder Woman" interviews. "I always thought that if I could send out a message, I want to show the strong side of a woman and how she can handle tough situations."
With development on "Wonder Woman 2" already well underway, it's clear that no matter how the Academy votes this year, the franchise will continue to have far-reaching impact well into the future.
'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'
Directed by British-Irish filmmaker Martin McDonagh, "Three Billboards" is a dark dramedy about a mother who goes to war against the police in her small town after the unsolved murder of her daughter. To shame the police, she erects three billboards decrying their lack of progress.
"I saw something similar to what we reveal on the billboards,” McDonagh said of his inspiration to write the film. "It was a very stark, angry, brutal message, and it made me wonder what kind of person it was that would have the kind of rage and pain necessary to put something like that up out there. Once I decided it was a mother, the story almost wrote itself."
"Billboard" is currently earning rave reviews from critics for both its directing, cinematography, production design and gripping performance by American actress Frances McDormand.
"A barn burner, a bracing shot of whiskey downed while spoiling for a fight," writes critic Katie Walsh. "It's a rallying cry, a right hook to the jaw, and wow, does it ever hurt so good."
'The Shape of Water'
American-Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, celebrated as part of Hollywood's "Three Amigos of Cinema" along with Mexican filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón ("Gravity) and Alejandro González Iñárritu ("The Revenant"), is receiving heavy Oscar buzz for his fantasy drama film "The Shape of Water."
The movie tells the story of a mute janitor (played by British actress Sally Hawkings) who comes across a captive creature while working at a secret government facility. After the pair develop a relationship, plans are put in place to help the creature escape the lab and regain his freedom.
"The Shape of Water" currently has a 98% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with many critics praising both del Toro's storytelling and Hawkings' moving performance. "Del Toro has said that this film is a long-gestating labor of love, a devotion that shows in every frame," writes Richard Lawson for Vanity Fair. "It's so carefully done, but still thumps with a genuine, visceral heartbeat."
Whether it's rebooting the Batman franchise or introducing audiences to the peculiarities of black holes, British director Christopher Nolan is well known for crafting stories for diverse genres. His latest epic, "Dunkirk," offers a haunting and visceral up-close look at the WWII evacuation of British soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France.
"I try to only make films that I feel very connected with on some emotional level," Nolan told IndieWire. "This is the first time I’ve taken on a real-life event, and there’s a huge responsibility that comes with that. But I suppose in some ways feel more personal."
The highest-grossing WWII film of all time, "Dunkirk" is also widely regarded as one of the greatest war films ever made. It's expected to make a big splash at the Oscars, where all signs point to easy nominations for screenplay, direction, score and cinematography. Writes critic Christopher Orr for The Atlantic: "It is hard to imagine a better tribute to this victory of survival than Nolan's spare, stunning, extraordinarily ambitious film."
American Jordan Peele, best known as one-half of the comedic duo "Key and Peele," surprised all of Hollywood in 2017 with the clever horror film "Get Out!" Written and directed by Peele, the film tells the story of a young interracial couple who become wrapped up in a bizarre cult that kidnaps black men for nefarious purposes.
"A really good horror movie has like three good scares these days," Peele told the Times. "I started off with 20. The first thing I did was make a list of my favorite types of scares in movies, and I said, if I can get 20, I’ll have a classic."
Widely acclaimed by critics (the film currently enjoys a whopping 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the film is currently a hot pick to appear at the Oscars. Comparisons to Israeli-American Natalie Portman's 2010 mystery horror "Black Swan" are strong, with possible nominations for original screenplay, director and even best picture.
"Peele succeeds where sometimes even more experienced filmmakers fail," writes Time Magazine critic Stephanie Zacharek. "He's made an agile entertainment whose social and cultural observations are woven so tightly into the fabric that you're laughing even as you're thinking, and vice versa."
Just how good is "Lady Bird," the semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age film from American director Greta Gerwig? The comedy-drama – starring Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan, American Laurie Metcalf and Israeli Odeya Rush – just surpassed Pixar's "Toy Story 2" as the best-reviewed film of all time on Rotten Tomatoes.
"We put our heart and souls into this movie, and the last step of this deeply collaborative art form of filmmaking is giving the film to the audience and the film critics," Gerwig said. "That there has been such a warm reception is a dream come true."
As it prepares to expand outside of its limited theater release, buzz for "Lady Bird," and likely Oscar chatter for its screenplay, direction and performance of Ronan is only likely to grow. As film critic Drew McWeeny summed it up: "This is a gorgeous movie made by a gorgeous spirit."
'The Big Sick'
One of the highest-grossing independent films of 2017, "The Big Sick" is a heartfelt and honest romantic comedy based on the real-life romance between Emily V. Gordon and Pakistani-American comedian Kumail Nanjiani. Directed by American filmmaker Michael Showalter, the Amazon exclusive has been widely praised for its direction, screenplay and, as critic Manohla Dargis shared, its accurate portrayal of "love, death and the everyday comedy of being a 21st-century American."
According to Nanjiani, best known for his role in the tech startup comedy "Silicon Valley," the decision to turn his personal life into a film was born from the unusual, cross-cultural nature of their courtship.
"The impetus was that Emily and I had something sort of big happen to us that’s a very personal part of our story," he told Vulture. "We knew that we wanted to write a movie and tell this story in a way that could be palatable and entertaining to a lot of people."
Set in rural Mississippi during WWII, "Mudbound" is a period drama that follows two war veterans – one white, one black – and their unlikely friendship amidst rising racial tensions and violence. Directed by American filmmaker Dee Rees, the Netflix exclusive has received wide critical praise for its acting, directing and accurate depiction of rural class struggles.
"Confronting race, class, war, and the possibility of unity, Mudbound spellbinding drama reckons with the past to understand the present," writes film critic Matt Patches for Thrillist.
Should "Mudbound" earn a Best Picture nod, it would be the first for Netflix as a burgeoning Hollywood powerhouse.
'The Last Jedi'
While you're likely to see "The Last Jedi" irrespective of its Oscar potential, we're pretty sure the Academy will once again honor this latest chapter in the "Star Wars" franchise. Helmed by American director Rian Johnson and his longtime friend Ram Bergman, a prolific Israeli producer, "Jedi" in both its marketing and trailers appears to be raising the stakes for all the main characters. We're particularly excited for the return of American actor Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker who, albeit briefly, made quite the impression at the end of "The Force Awakens."
"I think we are all going to be very upset if he does not win an Oscar, and no one more upset than Mark,” director J.J. Abrams said earlier this year. "Actually, he’s very funny. I always think frankly that he has been a little bit underrated. Look what he had to do to bring 3PO and R2-D2 to life in a way. His work was always incredible and there he was in that, sadly, short scene at the end of 'The Force Awakens' and he had to convey a whole lot with no dialogue, so it’s a lot harder in a way than you might think. He is a terrific actor and I can’t wait for everyone to see what he finally does say."
With "The Force Awakens" picking up Oscar noms for Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing and Best Visual Effects, could "Jedi" be slated for a similar showing?
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