The Awards Season Round-Up 2018

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the end of the 2018 awards’ season. With the big night – the Academy Awards – just around the corner, I thought it was high time for me to decide on my personal winners. I have done similar posts for 2016 and 2017 awards seasons and linked them accordingly.

This year, I’m switching up the format and instead of listing my favorite to the least favorite filmmakers/films in each category, I’m just gonna be announcing a single personal (subjective) winner out of the nominees. I’ll also write down my objective winner – somebody who I think (when factoring in the previous wins, the critical acclaim, even the box office numbers) will actually get the Oscar. My subjective and objective winners might not always coincide. I’ll also include some of the snubs – people or movies that should have been included in the prestigious top 5 (or top 10 for Best Picture) but didn’t get an invite. Here we go! Don’t forget to tell me your personal winners (who should win and who will win) in the comments!

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington – Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Snubs: Tom Hanks – The Post; James Franco – The Disaster Artist; Jamie Bell – Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

  • Objective Winer: Gary OldmanDarkest Hour (he won every major award until this point).
  • Subjective Winners: Timothée ChalametCall Me by Your Name or Daniel Kaluuya Get Out (two incredible actors, both at the beginning of their career – the nominations themselves already solidified them as valuable commodity in Hollywood and the wins, though unlikely, would kickstart their career on even a higher note)

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Snubs: Jessica Chastain – Molly’s Game; Michelle Williams – All The Money In The World; Emma Stone – Battle of the Sexes

  • Objective Winer: Frances McDormandThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (again, she has won every major acting award this season)
  • Subjective Winner: Sally HawkinsThe Shape of Water (there was something so special about her performance that I just have to give it to her)

Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins – The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer – All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: Armie Hammer – Call Me by Your Name

  • Objective Winer: Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (won every major award this season)
  • Subjective Winners: Sam Rockwell Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (made an awful caricature into an understandable character – brilliant)

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Lesley Manville – Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer – The Shape of Water

Snubs: Hong Chau – Downsizing; Holly Hunter – The Big Sick; Kristin Scott Thomas – Darkest Hour

  • Objective Winer: Allison JanneyI, Tonya (won every major award – I’m getting tired of repeating this line but there really hasn’t been a lot of surprises this awards season)
  • Subjective Winners: Allison Janney I, Tonya (while all the nominees were good, she was amazing and on a different level altogether)

Director:

Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Paul Thomas Anderson – Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water

Snubs: Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Ridley Scott – All the Money in the World; Steven Spielberg – The Post; Sean Baker – The Florida Project; Denis Villeneuve – Blade Runner 2049

  • Objective Winer: Guillermo del ToroThe Shape of Water (the major winner this season who is also a longtime working director that deserves an Oscar)
  • Subjective Winners: Greta GerwigLady Bird (while I didn’t think her movie was as praiseworthy as everyone said, I do think that her directing abilities made it into something more special than a simple YA coming of age tale).

Adapted Screenplay:

James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green – Logan
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Virgil Williams & Dee Rees – Mudbound

Snubs:  Armando Iannucci, Ian Martin & David Schneider – The Death of Stalin;  Hampton Fancher & Michael Green – Blade Runner 2049 (not sure whether it counts as original or adapted)

  • Objective Winer: Aaron Sorkin Molly’s Game (I think that Sorkin’s name will be enough to persuade the voters)
  • Subjective Winners: Scott Frank, James Mangold & Michael Green Logan (no surprise here, if you read my blog: as much as I like typical awards movies, seeing a mainstream comic book movie winning an Oscar would be absolutely amazing)

Original Screenplay:

Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch – The Florida Project;  Steven Rogers – I, Tonya

  • Objective Winner: Martin McDonaghThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
  • Subjective Winners: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail NanjianiThe Big Sick or Jordan PeeleGet Out (again, two more mainstream-esque movies that did something new and unique with familiar genres)

Best Picture:

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Snubs: The Disaster ArtistThe Big Sick; Molly’s Game; The Florida Project

  • Objective Winner: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (the winner up to this point). Or The Shape of Water (the big nominee that could steal the thunder)
  • Subjective Winners: I would love to see either of my objective winners actually winning. The third subjective pick would be Call Me by Your Name.

And that is is for the 2018th Awards Season! Onto March a.k.a. the warm-up for the summer movie season (A Wrinkle In Time; Red Sparrow; Tomb Raider; Pacific Rim 2; Love, Simon; Ready Player One…this month is going to be big!)

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Movie review: Lady Bird

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the best tomato (once) in the movie business. This is Lady Bird.

IMDb summary: In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California.

Greta Gerwig

Lady Bird was written and directed by Greta Gerwig – an actress-turned-writer, now also a director (this film was her directorial debut). The ‘tomato’ line in the opening of this review, of course, refers to the fact that this movie was once the best-reviewed movie on Rotten Tomatoes (it has now fallen to 99% from the initial 100%). While it was certainly a great film, I, personally, didn’t think that it was as unique or out of the ordinary as everyone hailed it to be (spoiler alert: I think I change my mind by the end of this review).

Writing

Lady Bird’s story was a personal coming of age tale. While some of the details of the plot were very interesting and quite extraordinary, at its core, the movie’s plot was quite conventional. And there is nothing wrong with that! Nowadays, very rarely do we see completely original films. Likewise, movies that take something familiar and update it (like Lady Bird did) are rare too and should be celebrated! Still, I don’t think that they should be over-complimented just to make a statement.

Anyways, by being a coming of age tale, Lady Bird mostly focused on the perils of growing up and maturing. It looked at high-school drama but not in a cheesy way: the school/friend/boyfriend problems were treated with utmost importance, as they would be regarded from a teenage girl’s perspective when one’s whole life is high school. Those scenes felt really heartfelt rather than cheap and shallow, even if some of them were intended to be humorous (like, the theatre activities that were so fun to watch). I also appreciated how real the scenes looked – Lady Bird’s reaction to her first kiss was just perfect and highly relatable. A few of the scenes were a bit cringe-y as well but that was also very true to a life of a teenager.

Thematically, the movie: hinted at exploration of sexuality; looked at the experience of having a crush on a teacher; explored ideas relating to one’s identity (rebelling, trying to get in with the ‘cool kids’, realizing who you really are, etc.); examined friendship and relationships (first steps into dating), and suggested ideas relating to potential mental illnesses. Basically, the movie covered all the grounds of teenage experience through either the main or the supporting characters.

A crucial part of coming of age for everyone has always been one’s relationship with their parents. Lady Bird mostly centered on the mother-daughter relationship and explored it quite successfully. However, I have seen this movie celebrated for showing the mother’s perspective – I, personally, didn’t think that the mother character had nearly enough scenes, especially, solo ones, to truly say that this movie treated her POV as equal to her daughter’s POV. Anyways, I still believe that the relationship itself (when not arguing about the POVs) was portrayed extremely well: as both passive aggressive but, ultimately, loving. Essentially, a mirror image of me and my mom 7-8 years ago. I also really loved the film’s message that love is attention – that was quite a heartwarming takeaway for the viewers.

The movie also explored the importance of a location of one’s youth. For Gerwig herself and for Christine that was Sacramento. A lovely but maybe overtly idyllic place, which certainly was far from the worst place in America, but, I guess to each their own. The film, ultimately, was either intentional or unintentional love letter to Sacramento, California. Another autobiographical aspect of Lady Bird’s story was the character’s somewhat religious upbringing. The whole idea of a Catholic school seemed quite bizarre to me but I did appreciate the fact that the movie noted that religion is not something one can be forced into but, rather, something that a person has to discover by themselves (as Christine rediscovered it in college, when she had the freedom of choice).

Directing

I highly enjoyed the visualization of the teenage experience in this film, which mostly occurred through the costumes and the set design. The uniqueness of the main character was perfectly portrayed through her hair and the changes she made to the uniform. I also loved the thrifting scenes: they not only showed her unique style but captured her family’s station in life too (and stressed the importance of keeping up the image even in poverty). I also loved Lady Bird’s room: it looked so eclectic and really reminded me of my bedroom as a teenager. The scenes of her painting over all the things on her walls really signaled her growth. I’m older than Lady Bird was supposed to be in this film and I’m definitely not even close to that stage in life, as my bedroom walls’ look even messier and more confused than they did when I was a teen. Another signal of the character’s growth was her decision to change her name back to Christine. And yet, the movie also ended ambiguously and noted that she still has a lot of work to do on her identity, as she still lied about where she was from and wasn’t yet fully comfortable with who she is/was. Are we ever really are?

On a final note, Lady Bird was a fairly slow movie but it was also really short – one of the shortest awards movies for sure. I sometimes really appreciate films that manage to tell tight stories and to say everything they need to say in 90 minutes without making the pictures themselves feel rushed. And Lady Bird definitely did that!

Acting

Saoirse Ronan was delightful to watch in the film and I completely bought her as a teenager. Her American accent was also extremely convincing. I also loved the overall deep emotional quality of her performance: she didn’t have a lot of flashy scenes but she didn’t need them to be absolutely brilliant in the picture. Her involvement in this movie also made me recall another coming of age tale of hers – Brooklyn– through the character in that picture was completely different (Ronan certainly has the range).

Laurie Metcalf played Christine’s mother and did a great job. Her performance was ‘quietly good’ rather than super explosive, like Janney’s one in I, Tonya. I believe that Metcalf will be unfairly overlooked in the supporting actress category due to the quietness or the subtlety of her performance, when being evaluated against more ‘out there’ performances like Janney’s, a.k.a. I don’t think her nomination will lead to a win.

On the supporting front, the two love interests of the titular character were played by two young actors, who are already awards’ voters’ favorites (and deservedly so). Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea last year and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri this year) had a small role in this film, while Timothee Chalamet (the breakout star from Call Me By Your Name) was also on the cast list and proved that he can play a heterosexual romantic lead as well as a homosexual one.

In short, I started this review with a statement that I didn’t think that Lady Bird was that exceptional but I do think that I fell in love with this movie all over again by writing the paragraphs that followed the said statement. And I’m not going to change the intro declaration because this review, like Lady Bird’s and all our lives, are all works in progress.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Lady Bird trailer

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Movie review: I, Tonya

Movie reviews

Hello!

Just in time for Winter Olympics 2018 in PyeongChang, I got a chance to see a biopic of a former Olympic figure skater. This is I, Tonya!

IMDb summary: Competitive ice skater Tonya Harding rises amongst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes.

Writing

I, Tonya was written by Steven Rogers – a writer of mostly romantic comedies and dramas. I thought that he did quite an excellent job with a new kind of story for him – a biographical black comedy. Of course, a lot of the appeal of the writing came from the peculiar and fascinating subject matter itself – Tonya Harding’s life. I really liked the structure of the film: the 4th wall breaking interviews + flashbacks. This type of structure didn’t make the movie feel choppy at all but added a layer of almost documentary-like authenticity. I also liked how the first’s part of the movie explored Tonya’s life prior to the event and only the second part focused on the event and its aftermath. By not making the whole movie about the incident with Nancy Kerrigan (who, btw, only showed up briefly – this picture was, truly, Tonya’s story and I’ve seen some supporters of Nancy complain about that online), the filmmakers really made this movie into a well-rounded biography of Tonya’s rather than just a retelling of a single event in her life. I also found the themes that the movie explored very interesting: the two major concepts that the picture looked at were family and sport – both of which intersected in Tonya Harding’s life.

Lately, ‘sport’ movies have been about so much more than just sport (like, Battle of the Sexes, in addition to I, Tonya). Gone are the days of basic inspirational sports movies of underdogs succeeding. Now, the underdogs don’t always win and the hurdles in their way are even higher and more complicated (less black and white too). Also, a recurring topic that I’ve noticed in the latest ‘sports’ movies was elitism in sport, which was explored here through the need of a ‘wholesome American family’ for a world-class skater and in Borg Vs. McEnroe through a need to come from a certain class (the higher the better) to be able to play tennis.

Looking for parallels with the other movies further, interestingly, Tonya Harding wasn’t the only real-life movie heroine this awards’ season who was told all her life that she wasn’t good enough (Molly from Molly’s Game was too). There is no question that her mother was a horrible and abusive parent. However, did that abuse really made Tonya tougher and a champion, as her mom asserted? I’d disagree, as it seems that Tonya went from one abusive family to create an abusive and dysfunctional family of her own. And yet, was she only a product of her upbringing and circumstances? Or whether some of it was completely on her? Was she inherently violent or did she learn violence? Either way, while the movie raised a lot of questions for me (as evident in this paragraph), it did provide me with one clear answer: Tonya deserved better. Also, I do believe that Tonya wasn’t to blame as much as she was blamed (she wasn’t completely blameless either). However, it seems that the skating world really could not past up an opportunity to avenge themselves not only for the incident but for her whole attitude towards them.

But, this is only my takeaway from the film. Other viewers might have understood the message differently and that’s okay because, as the movie itself stated at the very beginning: there are different versions of the truth. However, I do believe that there is a consensus among the viewers about who was the most despicable character in the film. If you didn’t think it was the bodyguard, then you really shouldn’t read this review further. I absolutely hated his character not only for his final actions that damned everyone else but just how he weaseled himself into that situation in the first place. He was truly an idiot, and that special kind of idiot, that, I’m sad to say, only seems to come in the US. Another very American aspect of the movie was the public’s reaction to the incident: Americans are a special nation who love to love celebrities as much as they love to hate them. Though it looks like this trend (of love and hate) is spreading to other parts of the world now too, mostly because of the social media.

Directing

Craig Gillespie (of The Finest Hours and Million Dollar Arm) directed I, Tonya and did a stellar job. He paced and edited the movie really well. The cinematography was great too – I loved how close and intimate the camera was during the skating sequences. The head replacement effect was noticeable in some of those sequences but not as much as to take the viewer out of the movie. The setting of the period was realized spot-on. The breaking of the 4th wall not only during the interview sequences but during the flashbacks was great too and fit the black comedy/’so crazy it has to be true’ tonne of the film. The picture was also incredibly funny but in that ‘I feel horrible for laughing’ kind of a way. I loved its irony and that satirical feeling.  The mirrored visuals in the ending, with Harding twirling on ice vs falling in a boxing, were amazing and quite sad as well.

Acting

Margot Robbie (Goodbye Christopher Robin, Tarzan, The Big Short), who has been steadily increasing her mainstream fanbase with every movie she has starred in, especially Suicide Squad, did an absolutely stellar job as the titular character. She not only acted in the film but also produced it. This role of hers reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster, as both actresses got really de-glamourized in order to portray their respective characters. I also loved how Robbie was able to portray Tonya as a graceful dancer who wasn’t girly but rather more masculine. I thought that Robbie’s best scenes in the film (the ones that were definitely in her awards reel) were: 1)her just looking at the mirror before the 1994 Olympics and 2)her reaction to the sentence of the trial. Fun fact: the girl who played young Tonya was Mckenna Grace. In addition to playing the younger version of an actress who is Harley Quinn, she has also starred in Gifted alongside Captain America, a.k.a Chris Evans.

Allison Janney (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Girl on the Train) was also incredible in the film and is deservedly getting a lot of awards recognition for it. I wish that Sebastian Stan, who played Tonya’s husband, would have also gotten some awards nods because he too was excellent in the film. Stan has been steadily building quite a successful career for himself too, like Robbie, by starring in the supporting roles in smaller/awards films (The Martian, Logan Lucky) and by portraying a fan favorite character in a big franchise, a.k.a. Bucky in MCU (who was last seen in Civil War plus, a certain post-credits scene in a certain movie.

In short, I, Tonya was a great film with a fascinating subject matter and a stellar execution.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: I, Tonya trailer

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Movie review: Phantom Thread

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to one the last awards’ movie reviews. This time around, we are discussing Phantom Thread!

IMDb summary: Set in 1950’s London, Reynolds Woodcock is a renowned dressmaker whose fastidious life is disrupted by a young, strong-willed woman, Alma, who becomes his muse and lover.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread was written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, known for such films as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice (which I’ve finally watched and was confused by) and There Will Be Blood (my favorite picture of his). His direction for Phantom Thread was very particular (and, in a way, quite spectacular). The writing was also very specific and, while I, personally, found a lot of problems with its content, I could also see how other people might have been fascinated by it. Let’s begin!

Writing

Phantom Thread’s narrative was, at its core, a love story, albeit a twisted and toxic one. The portrayal of such a love story was my main problem with the film. I have seen this movie described as a true representation of what it is like being in a relationship with an artist. To me, this looked like a situation, in which the film’s supposed authenticity of representation was used as a poor justification for the toxic relationship of the characters. Also, the assertion of authenticity raised another problem in my mind: according to this film, artists are borderline divine deities, to be sheltered and protected. In my worldview, artists are humans: flawed individuals rather than godlike figures to be privileged and raised above everyone else.

Going back to the love story, I couldn’t buy its progression. The female character stared the film as timid and quiet and seemed to be perfectly happy to be in an abusive and strict relationship. However, then she changed into a femme fatale (went from 0 (every second word from her mouth in the first half was ‘yes’) to Christian Grey levels) and attempted to reassert some power/or even take full control of the relationship by using quite deadly means. Where did that change come from? I did not see any hints at it at the beginning of the film! Also, if deciding to play-up the female character as this quiet but deadly individual, why not have the whole tonne of the movie be a bit more cynical and sinister rather than romantical? The changes in tonne would have made the whole shift seem a bit more possible. Also, was her goal to lower his defense mechanism really the only thing driving her forward? Or did she just want to weasel herself into his business and was basically a gold digger?

The male character was equally awful. He was privileged, pedantic, ridden with mommy issues (which were never really explored, just mentioned), demanding, superior without any good reason, obsessive, pretentious and controlling workaholic. Was he like that because of a mental illness or was he just an awful human being? Did his eccentricities really make him remarkable? I found that assertion quite questionable. Also, what did he see in the female character? A person to love, a prize to desire or a great model for his clothes/a real life dressmaker’s dummy?

The two ideas of writing that I liked the most (or the only two I liked at all) were the assertions that clothing is powerful and transformative and the character of the sister. Her jealousy of the new girlfriend/wife was a bit weird but I did like the fact that she was done with her brother by the end of the film and experienced growth – escaped the cycle that the other two characters remained stuck in.

Directing

Phantom Thread looked like a 1950s movie with its blurry and grainy visuals and soft colors. The designs themselves were beautiful but they also seemed very much of their own time – old rather than classical (time-transcending). The picture was also really slow, and since the story was either angering or extremely unengaging for me, I felt that it dragged more than a few times.

Acting

The two lead actors – Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps – did a good enough job portraying the character. But, as I found their characters atrocious, I couldn’t really enjoy the actors’ performances. The chemistry between the two actors was interesting. I didn’t see it as positive but rather more confrontational and sometimes awkward, uncomfortable to watch. I don’t think this was Day-Lewis best performance and I certainly don’t think he should retire after it. For Krieps, this was her English-language debut (or one of the first few roles in English) and it was not necessarily the most successful one.

 

 

In short, Phantom Thread was a beautifully shot film, whose writing left me confused and annoyed. Might just be a personal thing, though, as a lot of critics seemed to have loved it.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Phantom Thread trailer

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Movie review: The Shape of Water

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of another awards movie. This is The Shape of Water!

IMDb summary: At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.

Writing

The Shape of Water was written by the director Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor (who wrote Divergent and the upcoming live-action Alladin and has also worked on Game of Thrones). I thought that the duo crafted a unique yet familiar love story. The characters – the mute woman and the creature – were the two things that made the conventional plot into an unconventional (subverted) and extraordinary one. It was interesting to see how Elisa’s disability made her more empathetic towards other individuals who were shunned by society (not only the creature but the (?)gay (he is never labeled in the movie) neighbor but the black co-worker). Her specific disability (being mute) and her gender (female) also had an interesting correlation with the idea of women being silenced/having no voice in that period (the 1960s – prior to the sexual revolution and the overt women’s rights movements).

The hints at the fact that the amphibian man was the one who hurt her as a child made for some fascinating implications in their relationship too. For one, that possibility (of him maybe having hurt her) and some of his other actions in the film made him seem as a creature in which goodness and destruction coexist (sort of like in humanity: Hawkins‘ character symbolizing the kindness and Shannon’s – the violence). The whole romantic relationship between the two characters was just so pure, even adorable and yet still slightly creepy. The picture didn’t shy away from the more questionable parts of the relationship (Beauty and the Beast never raised those kinds of questions) which was quite brave, in my mind, mostly in risking alienating the audience. The film’s ending was quite unexpected, to me, personally. I was assuming that the script will go the melancholic route – ‘if you love, let go’ – but The Shape of Water chose the hopeful/happy fairytale conclusion and finished on the note of love and unity. That was quite an escapist ending but it did fit the surreal quality of the film.

A few other notes on the writing. First, I loved this movie’s appreciation for cinema and creative arts in general (painting, drawing). I’ve always loved films which love (like me) and pay homage to other motion pictures (I’d love to live above the movie theatre). The second interesting point of writing that was somewhat divorced from the main love story was Michael Shannon’s arc and his character’s relation to the ideas of the male success and the expectations for such success. Failure was not an option for him and it is still not seen as a legitimate or appropriate part of the construction of masculinity, especially the white privileged form of masculinity.

Directing

Guillermo del Toro directed The Shape of Water and succeeded in crafting almost a spiritual sequel (an adult one) to Pan’s Labyrinth (while I have liked his more action-driven works like Hellboy and its sequel and Pacific Rim, his weirder creations (fantasy realism or realistic fantasies) were always more fascinating to me and that includes Crimson Peak). Anyways, speaking about this picture, I adored its mixed tonne. The Shape of Water was both a genre movie and a typical awards movie. It was an old-school monster thriller/horror movie (think the original Universal Monsters Universe, Creature from the Black Lagoon) as well as an old-school romantic drama with some shades of the theatrical musical or more than just shades in one particular sequence (think Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, just recently La La Land). The adult tone that I’ve mentioned in the opening sentence was that fact that the film had sexual and sensual undertones that one would not find in a more family-friendly film, like Pan’s Labyrinth (though, both that movie and The Shape of Water were rated R, so maybe Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t that all-ages appropriate as I remember).

Visually, the film looked stunning. The 1960s world of science was well realized (stellar production design) and the underwater sequences at the beginning and the end of the film were amazing (top-notch cinematography). The movie’s and the main character’s relationship to water was realized so cleverly and beautifully too. The costume design and the makeup were impeccable as well: the monster looked incredibly real.

Acting

Sally Hawkins (Paddington 2) delivered a brilliant performance that shined through the limited means of expression, a.k.a., she was amazing, even though, she barely said any lines. She seemed so endearing and had such a complex interplay innocence and maturity about her. And, although she was so great in the film, part of me wishes that the role would have been given to am an actually mute actress – I’d love to see more opportunities being extended to actors with disabilities (or special abilities). The TV show Switched at Birth has taught me that there are quite a few mute and deaf actors working in the business.

Doug Jones (a longtime collaborator of del Toro, currently part of the main cast of Star Trek: Discoveryor the Andy Serkis of practical costumes/effects was great as the creature and was definitely more than able to act through all that rubber. Michael Shannon (12 Strong, Nocturnal Animals, Loving) was also fascinating to watch even when though he played a very despicable character. Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Allegiant) also had some fun scenes, while Richard Jenkins was amazing as the neighbor. Michael Stuhlbarg also had a small role in the film (and applause go to him and his agent for having three awards movie this season – The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name, and The Post – that join numerous other awards movies in his filmography, including the recent ones: Steve Jobs, Trumbo, and Arrival).

In short, The Shape of Water was one of those movies that made me go ‘huh?!’ and made me unsure what to feel (or think) in the best way possible.

Rate: 4,8/5

Trailer: The Shape of Water trailer

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Movie review: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch Gary Oldman’s Oscar picture Darkest Hour and this is my review.

IMDb summary: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.

Before we start discussing this film, let me link you to another Churchill biography from 2017 titled, surprise surprise, Churchill. That film focused on the closing moments of WW2 (in contrast to this movie, which explores the opening chapters of it). Also, if you want more context for Darkest Hour, you can watch Dunkirk, also from 2017: the events in that film happen at the same time as the ones in Darkest Hour.

Writing

Darkest Hour was written by Anthony McCarten (writer and producer of The Theory of Everything and a novelist) and he did a spectacular job writing for the character of Churchill (less of a stellar job constructing the story of a film but, then again, the character was the story in the case of this movie).

Churchill was presented as a complex and layered figure, one that had both flaws and redeeming features. He was basically the last choice for the position of PM and, yet he became the hero of the nation and half of the Western world. He came from a privileged background (didn’t even know the correct hand gestures) and, yet was also the man of the people (the underground scene was a great visualization of his transition from being the PM for the government to being the PM of the people). He was also a patriot through and through and, yet he decided to lie to his nation (is there ever a good enough cause to withhold the truth?). He also has worked with people with diverging opinions and personalities all his life and, yet have never really learned to comprise. In addition to being a leader, who deeply felt the loss of his troops (the fact that it is the leader’s main objective to bear the loss is as true in real life as it is in fiction, a.k.a. The Last Jedi), he was also a husband and a father, who sacrificed his family life for the public one. And yet, Churchill’s and his wife Clementine’s relationship was portrayed as a very loving and caring one. The moments of confrontation were present in it too, but the shared feeling between the two individuals was love, at its purest.

The screenwriter also did a very good job with the inclusion of Churchill’s actual speeches into the film. However, while those speeches were truly inspirational, especially the final one, probably not one of the initial listeners (other politicians) were that inspired to do any actual fighting. The scriptwriter also wrote some brilliant dialogue for Churchill and King George VI (yup, the one from The King’s Speech – this is a well cinematized period of the British history) – I especially liked the King’s change of heart moment. Darkest Hour also explored or hinted at some of the wider implications of war. The moment with Churchill calling Franklin D. Roosevelt was a perfect signal of the reversal of fortunes of the former colony and the empire. Speaking about the empire: every WW2 (or any war) movies I watch raise me a question: is there ever the good side in the war? Yes, Hitler was a monster but the British Empire was an empire, that oppressed millions of people around the globe for way longer than Hitler was in power. How do count who is worse? By human loss? By time? By subjective and personal evaluation? Lastly, some historical events portrayed in the film, when put in contemporary context, made me chuckle ironically, like the fact that the majority of the British politicians were ready to compromise, while they are not known for their ability to do the same nowadays (*cough, cough*, Brexit).

Directing

Joe Wright (of such literary adaptations as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina and mainstream missteps as Pan) tackled the Churchill biopic and was quite successful. Darkest Hour was truly a character piece, and a specific glimpse into, rather than a full-on recreation of a historical event. I loved how the camera’s focus was always on Churchill and how he occupied the center of the frame most of the time (I loved the images where Churchill was framed in doors, windows, rooms). I also thought that the drama was constructed quite well, though a film did felt a bit long. Lastly, I reached a sort of a personal epiphany that probably wasn’t intended by the director, when watching the picture. Seeing all the rooms of white old men in the positions of power was all good and appropriate for a historical drama but as soon as I saw them, I had a sad realization that this image has changed very little in the governments of today.

Acting

Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard was his last film – what a step-up in quality this one is) absolutely nailed the titular character. He fully transformed himself into Winston Churchill. While the physical transformation (the make-up and the prosthetics) were impressive, what I found most intriguing (and transformative) about Oldman’s performance was his demeanor, emotional intensity, and his way of speaking. I also appreciated the fact that Oldman played Churchill as a real person rather than a historical figure. By treating Churchill as a person, Oldman (and the director) found room for humor and sarcasm within the character – two things that don’t really come across in the history textbooks. Oldman has won every major acting award so far, thus, an Oscar win is almost a sure bet too.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party) brought warmth and strength to Clementine Churchill, while Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) was really good as King George VI and portrayed the royal as a real person rather than a larger than life figure too. Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was good as the secretary Elizabeth Layton but her character wasn’t really necessary for the film. Also, I feel like a secretary type of character (with either a boyfriend or a family member being at war or in another kind of peril) has been included in alongside portrayal of Churchill: e.g. Ella Purnell played PM’s secretary in Churchill, while Kate Phillips played one on The Crown. Lastly, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane were good as the two main antagonists of Churchill: Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, respectively.

In short, Darkest Hour was a brilliant character piece that featured a truly magnificent performance by Gary Oldman.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

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Movie review: Coco

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film has finally landed in my local theatres. This is Coco!

IMDb summary: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

Just before we start, here are the links to my other Pixar reviews: Cars 3, Finding Dory, Inside Out.

Writing

Coco was written by Adrian Molina (worked on Monsters University, Toy Story 3, The Good Dinosaur, Ratatouille) and Matthew Aldrich (who doesn’t have much on his IMDb). Disney/Pixar have been dipping their toes into different cultures more and more (just recently with Moana) and have been attempting to showcase these certain cultures without appropriating them. I think that they succeed at this with Coco. On a side note, Coco is not the first animated film to have explored the day of the dead – 4 years ago, 20th Century Fox animation studios made The Book of Life to little or no fanfare. This only goes to show the importance of the attachment of a big name to any project – people trust Pixar, similarly how they trust Marvel or up until recently, Lucasfilm.

Anyways, back to Coco. So, Molina and Aldrich took the rituals and the beliefs of Dia de Los Muertos and turned them into a mythology of the film. To my mind, they were respectful of the culture and did a very good job of explaining it/informing others about it. I’ve always been interested in this particular celebration (even wrote a paper on it in my first year of uni), however, I only had a limited knowledge of it and Pixar’s Coco expanded it. I loved how they also included other iconic elements/people from the Mexican culture (loved the recurring Frida Kahlo gag). I also liked how the move took something culture-specific, like the idea that people decorate altars with photos, candles, and their ancestors’ favorite things, and used it in a very universal, familiar way, a.k.a in the shrine that Miguel dedicates to his favorite singer. While not all of us have made shrines for our favorite things, I’m certain that everybody who reads this blog has at least one movie poster on their wall. I can tell you that I’ve made many movie shrines in my days.

From the structural point of view, I thought that Coco was a well-written and fun adventure. It had some unexpected twists and turns. Thematically, the movie explored the idea of a family v. individual, though, the true conflict of the film was secrets within a family. In addition, while the Dia de Los Muertos setting of the picture already made it a bit dark, some reveals in the third act made it even darker. The Dia de Los Muertos focus of the film also allowed Coco to stress the importance of remembering one’s ancestors – that was such a nice message to spread. Lastly, in the usual Pixar fashion, all the heartstrings were pulled by Coco too.

Directing

Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3, who has also worked on other Pixar films in various roles since the creation of the beloved studio) directed Coco and did a magnificent job. To begin with, the whole animation department at Pixar should get raises or a standing ovation every morning because Coco was the most beautiful animated picture I have ever seen. The amount of detail that went into the design, the vibrancy of the colors, the lighting – everything was just perfect. A lot of these praises are based just on the original visual appeal of Dia de Los Muertos but I do think that the animators deserve recognition for their work of translating this real-world visual appeal into an animated form. I loved the opening sequence with the backstory given through papercuts – it was both original and a culturally-appropriate way to do exposition.  In addition, I loved the aural cultural aspects that were included – mainly the music and how it was both there to embellish the story and be an important part of the story. ‘Remember Me’ was such a great song and, while it might not be the catchiest one, it carried so much sentimental weight. Lastly, the film was paced very well too. It had a good mix of funny moments, entertaining action, educational information, and heart-wrenching emotions.

Voice work

Anthony Gonzalez voiced Miguel and did such a brilliant job. He had such an expressive and strong voice that was just perfect for the lead in an animated film. Gael García Bernal voiced Héctor, while Benjamin Bratt (he does quite a lot of voice work and was recently in Doctor Strange) was Ernesto. I also really loved the brief but important work of Renée Victor (as Abuelita Elena) and Ana Ofelia Murguía (as Mamá Coco) in the movie. One brought such energy to the character, while the other – such love and affection to her respective character.

In short, Coco was a beautiful story brought to life by gorgeous animation and majestic voice work. This is one of those reviews, where any positive synonym of the word ‘beautiful’ works. And the film is very much worthy of all praise.

Rate: 4.8/5 (I’m taking a few points off not because of the movie but because of its messed up international release date)

Trailer: Coco trailer

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Movie review: The Post

Movie reviews

Hello!

Spielberg. Hanks. Streep. Need I say more? This is The Post!

IMDb summary: A cover-up that spanned four U.S. Presidents pushed the country’s first female newspaper publisher and a hard-driving editor to join an unprecedented battle between the press and the government.

Writing

The Post was written by Liz Hannah (a first-time writer on a movie) and Josh Singer (who worked on The Fifth Estate and Spotlight – two similar pictures to The Post). I thought that the writers did a really great job and I’d like to explore 3 particular aspects of their writing in a bit more detail. These are the journalism narrative, the commentary on war, and the character development.

To begin with, some of you may know that I once wanted to study journalism and this movie, with its display of amazing investigative journalism, reawakened that dream. The quote from Streep’s character, how news is the first rough draft of history, was brilliant and summed up everything that is great about true journalism. It was also incredibly interesting to see the relationship between the politicians and the press: how they not only used to be in cahoots (and started to be against each other after the events of 1971) but how members of the two occupations had personal relationships, thus, fighting against the politicians wasn’t just a job for journalists, but sometimes an attack on a friend. Hanks‘ characters line, about JFK being a friend rather than a source, perfectly encapsulated that whole conflict. In addition, The Post not only showcased the reporting side of journalism but the business parts of it too. The competition between newspapers, as well as the financial struggles of The Washington Post, were amazing to witness and helped to contextualize the particular events of the film.

The war commentary, as well as the insights into the faulty ideals of the American government, were also fascinating. The Post really showed how fragile American pride was and how the government was determined to put its citizens in jeopardy because they were afraid of embarrassment. And they still got embarrassed and have had a hard time working on that issue. Don’t even get me started on how they attempted to work around that problem with the 2016 election and dug themselves into an even deeper hole (and that’s only one of the parallels between the past events in the movie and the contemporary real ones).

The writing for Streep’s character is the third and last aspect I’d like to discuss. I found her whole character arc very interesting. To begin with, I didn’t think that Katharine Graham was a typical Streep character: she wasn’t untouchable Iron Lady. She was, at times, flustered and not always knew what to say. She was also very much part of her time: her lines about women not even knowing they could want more rang so true and opened my eyes to the fact that gender equality (and still not a full one) has not been a widespread thing for long, if the 1970s was still such a fighting ground for K. The said gender inequality was just perfectly seen in the fact that male characters would speak for her (she had to deal with a lot of manslapining); would question her decisions, or would even silence her. Lastly, the fact that journalism and all other business were dominated by white males also makes me question the legitimacy of the narrative cause it was just one kind of narrative.

Directing

Steven Spielberg (The BFG, so looking forward to Ready Player One) directed The Post and I’d place this film together with Bridge of Spies and Lincoln in his filmography. The picture opened with a battle scene and Spielberg knows how to direct those impeccably. I also loved how the initial focus of the film was on the papers and only then did it move to the actual subjects of this biography. The visualization of journalism – from looking for the sources to writing to printing to distributing – was amazing. I especially loved the sequences with the old school printing press and the one of overnight research at Hanks‘ character’s house. The gender inequality was also well visualized with that single scene of women sitting in a living room and men being left in the dining room. That rung so many visual bells to the 19th century and Downton Abbey, simultaneously. Lastly, the ending of the film – an obvious hint at the Watergate scandal – was spot-on and made me want to find out more about that it. Any recommendations for a good and somewhat accurate Watergate movie?

Acting

Meryl Streep (Suffragette, Florence Foster Jenkins) did a really stellar job with this complex role. Tom Hanks (The Circle, Inferno, Sully, A Hologram for the King, Bridge of Spies) was also really good as the confident, ‘no pulling punches’ editor. Sarah Paulson (Carol) didn’t really have much to do but she did have one great speech. Bob Odenkirk was amazing as one of the reporters at The Washington Post, while Matthew Rhys impressed as Daniel Ellsberg, the original whistleblower (he came way before Edward Snowden or WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange). It was also nice to see two Fargo’s alumni Carrie Coon (Gone Girl) and Jesse Plemons (American Made) in small roles.

In short, The Post was a complex yet straightforward biography that was well written, directed qualitatively and acted impeccably.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: The Post trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Movie reviews

Hello!

This is an awards’ film (barely) with Denzel Washington and he is the only nominee. Well, that never happens (*cough, cough*)…This is Roman J. Israel, Esq.

IMDb summary: Roman J. Israel, Esq., a driven, idealistic defense attorney, finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action.

  1. Roman J. Israel, Esq. was written and directed by Dan Gilroy (he debuted as a director in 2014 with Nightcrawler and also wrote the recent Kong: Skull Island). While he didn’t do a bad job per say, I wouldn’t say that the film was successful either. At best, it was okay, at worst: so-so.
  2. From the writing standpoint, Roman J. Israel, Esq. was super dense. The law jargon was confusing and was not presented in an interesting way (it seems that ‘show, don’t tell’ rule was unheard of by the filmmakers). The only interesting visual with the legal paperwork was the opening sequence of a typed text –  I wanted to see more of that or other types of visualizations of the law. The movie was also quite slow and long – the plot dragged in more than a few places. In addition, the big twist – Roman’s decision to acquire some money through shady means – seemed far-fetched as the character did not seem to be so desperate as to commit such an act. The act could be believable if the movie was attempting to showcase the fragility of idealism when materialism comes calling. That’s one depressing message.
  3. Despite the flaws in the script, some neat dualities could be found in the writing. For one, Roman’s personal character and the requirements of his job were at odds – he was antisocial and introverted in nature but had to present a certain flashier business image of himself (extrovert in a suit with sleek rather than ethnic hair). His personal beliefs were also challenged by the modern times: his outlook was fairly old school and he didn’t seem to be able to adapt to the changes (the scene where he is lecturing the activists, as well as his exchange with the two women about the line between chivalry and sexism, come to mind).
  4. If my cryptic intro was too cryptic, what I meant by it was the fact that Denzel Washington has been nominated in the acting categories a plethora of times throughout his career, however, the films, in whole, have not faired great. Fences was completely shut down just last year (except for the Viola Davis’s win, which was more of a career win rather than a reward for that specific movie) and Flight did not do any better in the 2012/2013 season. Washington’s last big win was in 2002/2003 with Training Day. Here, he was good as Roman J. Israel and also acted as the only reason for me to watch this film. However, the performance wasn’t special – it was neither showy nor subtly powerful. Just good. And yet, if not for Denzel’s involvement with this film, we wouldn’t be even talking about it: another recent law drama/biography Marshall didn’t get any nominations because it didn’t have an awards’ voters favorite in the lead (that one did have a Black Panther, though).
  5. While the film was mostly a Denzel-centric show, the other members of the cast were good too. Colin Farrell (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Beguiled, Fantastic Beasts, The Lobster) didn’t have much to do but he did fit the role of a high profile lawyer very well. Carmen Ejogo (Fantastic Beasts, Alien: Covenant) was good as an activist too.

In short, Roman J. Israel, Esq. fades as a movie, while Denzel Washinton peaks as per usual.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Roman J. Israel, Esq. trailer

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Movie review: Three Billboards Outiside Ebbing, Missouri

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to the review of the big Golden Globe’s winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

IMDb summary: A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (amazing title, tbh) was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, known for such films as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He handled both jobs extremely well.

Writing

McDonagh was inspired to write this movie by actual billboards about a crime that he has seen while traveling somewhere in the southeast of the US. Before seeing this film, I knew its premise (and thought it was super unique) but I had no idea where the narrative would go. I’m happy to report that McDonagh took this story in an unexpected and as unique as its premise direction.

Three Billboards was a story of three characters (3 billboards, 3 leads), and, through these characters’ arcs, the movie was able to explore a plethora of themes. This picture was, in my mind, more of an exploration of these three characters rather than a crime drama with them in it.

To begin with, the writing for the grieving mother was just spectacular. It was refreshing to see a character allowed to grieve openly and express her anger (it a small step from pain to anger) rather than bottling it up (our society likes us to grieve in private and be done quickly so that we could rejoin society as productive members as soon as possible). The way the film visualized pain – by focusing it on the billboards – was also super interesting. The whole interplay/juxtaposition between typically emotionless corporate advertising spaces (a.k.a. the billboards) and highly emotional plea of a grieving mother was fascinating. Also, the film did a good job of showing the extremism of Mildred (the mother) but also of making her actions understandable – the balance was just right. The flashbacks, showing the mother’s and daughter’s last moments together, also added so much depth to the story.

The second lead – the unfit police officer – was the most unexpected character for me. He began the film as an openly racist and homophobic cop – just an awful human being, but also, simultaneously, a sad little person. However, the script then added some little extraordinary details that intrigued me, like his enjoyment of comic books, ABBA, and classical music. I could not reconcile his worldview and his hobbies in my mind. Also, I expected the movie to sideline him or just use the character to build the atmosphere, but Dixon (that’s his name) actually became the main player as a story unraveled and experienced real growth. While I don’t think I agree that he had the makings of a good cop, he definitely had the capacity to become a decent person (through experience and education). In addition, Three Billboards’ writing was clever about humanizing the character without being too emphatic – found that perfect balance again.

The third lead, the town’s sheriff, was the character the easiest to sympathize with as he was portrayed as being stuck in an impossible position, mediating between a grieving mother and an unfit police force. This type of a police vs, citizen confrontation hasn’t been seen much in pictures recently, mostly because the majority of police and citizen relations have been explored through the perspective of race. Anyways, the town’s sheriff actually seemed like a good person, who cared about his job and his family. His personal arc, relating to his illness, was an unexpected but realistic inclusion, that added some layers to his character.

Three Billboards also presented an interesting dichotomy between the society and the individual: the town’s reaction to the billboards and the prejudice against Mildred and the siding with the police force were both shocking to me and didn’t paint the best picture of the middle America that is already pretty bad after the recent election (which isn’t that recent).

Lastly, the picture had a highly unexpected ending in the team-up of the mother and the police officer. Their final decision – taking justice into their owns hands without substantial proof  – was not easy to agree with. And yet, the fact that their target was spewing such horrible things at the bar and was in the military (which is supposed to consists of people working for the good of society rather than be an example of the worst of it) kinda made me understand Mildred’s and Dixon’s decision. And even though, their final resolution, as well as the previous actions of a mother, might not be the healthiest or the most societally acceptable example of how to deal with grief, it is a potential example, nonetheless. Hey, whatever works, I guess?

Directing

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, while impeccably written, was also well directed. The pacing was great – the movie was intense and emotional all throughout. The cinematography was wonderful too – the visual set-up (opening the movie with the imagery of the billboards) was highly effective and straight to the point. The mobile frame and the handheld camera throughout the rest of the film added that feeling of realism that indie movies have. The whole atmosphere of the movie was also a bit Coen-esque (more Coen-y than the Coen brothers’ own film from last year – Suburbicon). A couple of my favorite scenes in the picture (mostly because they were unexpected) were Mildred’s confrontation with the priest (if you want to find out more about her accusations, watch Spotlight – an Oscar winner from 2 years ago) and her scene with the dentist (that one was especially shocking but of the good kind of shock value).

 

Acting

  • Frances McDormand was truly brilliant as Mildred Hayes. I believe that her performance here was as good as the one in Fargo, for which she won an Oscar, and I’m hoping that she will get another Academy Award this year.
  • Woody Harrelson (Triple 9The Hunger GamesNow You See Me, The Glass Castle, War For The Planet Of The Apes) was also really good as Sheriff Bill Willoughby. His performance was short (ended quite suddenly) but one of the best of his that I’ve seen (then again, he is always good even if the movie itself is lacking).
  • Sam Rockwell delivered his greatest performance as Officer Jason Dixon – he made that character seem like a real person rather than a caricature. I’m so glad that Rockwell is finally getting the recognition he deserves – he definitely should have gotten more awards nominations in the past, especially for 2009’s Moon.
  • On the supporting front, Peter Dinklage had a cameo role and it was a bit weird seeing him here – he and Tyrion Lannister have become one in my mind (playing such an iconic character is both a blessing and a curse). A few actors from other awards nominees’ also had roles here, including Lucas Hedges (was nominated for Manchester by the Sea last year and played a similar role in this film – that of a grieving teenager; he is also in Ladybird – another huge contender this awards season) and Caleb Landry Jones (who appeared in Get Out – the most mainstream film this awards season).

 

In short, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a perfectly balanced and powerful drama about grief, pain, and anger that was brought to life by 3 amazing acting performances.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri trailer

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