Film & TV

Oscars 2018: A Guide to This Year's Top Contenders

by William Defebaugh
11.27.2017
The holiday movie season is officially upon us, and it feels like there's more Best Picture buzz than ever this year.

It's often said that in times of unrest, the greatest art is made — and 2017 seems to have put that theory to the test. Creatives in every industry have come forward this year, but film especially. Whether to make commentary on the state of this country or to simply provide it with enchanting distractions — the dichotomy that remains at art's core — filmmakers, actors, and creators of all kinds of have stepped up their game. 

The result is a long (and somewhat intimidating) list of imaginative stories that speak to a wide range of diverse subject matter, whether that's the often-uncaptured intimacy of love between two men (Call Me By Your Name), whip-smart, genre-bending commentary on race relations (Get Out), or the retelling of one of journalism's most significant historical feats that feels even more relevant in an era where the field itself is coming into question by our own president (The Post). 

Below are our ten predictions for Best Picture, so you can plan your movie dates accordingly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Few films have received as much unanimous critical acclaim as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Written by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards stars Academy Award winner Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a woman who demands justice for her murdered daughter by rallying her town to hold its chief police officer (Woody Harrelson) accountable via a controversial messaging tactic that you can probably guess by the title. The film has been credited for striking an expert balance between its humor and the dark, culturally relevant subject matter it depicts (negligent police officers, hello). After watching the trailer, it's hard to resist the urge to run right for the nearest movie theater.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is in theaters now. Watch the trailer here.

The Shape of Water

Leave it to fantastical storyteller Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) to make one of the year's most heartwarming films about a merman (and no, we're not talking about Jason Momoa). Set in Cold War America, The Shape of Water follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor at a government facility living out her days in solitude, aside from the company of her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). While on the job, Elisa discovers something known as "the asset," a highly-intelligent man-fish hybrid with whom she developes a secret relationship, and eventually must save from the bigoted government agents who deem him a monster. All in all, it's a touching love story between two people of wildly different origins who find connection due to their differences, and are ultimately judged for it. It might be set in 1962, but could anything be more 2017?

The Shape of Water is in theaters now. Watch the trailer here.

The Florida Project

The Florida Project, the latest film from Sean Baker, is as heartbreaking as it is cinematically stunning. Continuing his modus operandi of narrating the uneventful, everyday lives of marginalized American subgroups (for those who didn't watch his previous film Tangerine, it's a must-see), The Florida Project centers around a group of impoverished children who weave in and out of trouble at The Magic Castle, a low grade motel outside of Orlando, Florida. The main character, six-year-old Moonee, attempts to have a good time despite her circumstances — and her prostituting, perfume-peddling mother (who is trying her best). Willem Dafoe plays the good-natured hotel manager who faces moral dilemmas on the daily in trying to play a second-hand parental figure to the children. It's an inspiring look at the ability of children to use imagination to find happiness anywhere, and a tragic reminder of the tough choices many young parents in America face today.

The Florida Project is in theaters now. Watch the trailer here.

Lady Bird

Greta Gerwig's directorial debut has just broken a record on Rotten Tomatoes for having the most consecutive "Fresh" reviews (163) and zero "Rotten" ones. Yes, this means it has a 100% score. This should come as little surprise to fans of Gerwig's work as a writer, including acclaimed hits like Frances Ha! and Mistress America. The indie darling's latest feat stars Saoirse Ronan as "Lady Bird" (self-named), an eccentric high school student and reluctant Californian as she navigates the tricky waters of late adolescence, boys (including Timothée Chalamet), and a complicated relationship with her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf). We hope this will be the first of many directorial achievements from Gerwig, whose star is undoubtedly on the rise even more than it already was.

Lady Bird is in theaters now. Watch the trailer here.

Call Me By Your Name

Aside from a few notable exceptions, relationships between gay men have historically been portrayed in cinema as lacking depth and intimacy (hence stereotypes about gay men being superficial and sex-driven). Nothing could be further from the truth in Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino's silver screen adaptation of the 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman. The story follows the relationship between 17-year-old Elio and 24-year-old Oliver, a handsome student doing a summer residency with Elio's father in a seaside town in Italy. The unfolding of their romance is as delicate as it is sensual, elegantly capturing the often-overlooked will-he-or-won't-he nuances of gay love. A bonus? The film's gorgeous soundtrack is scored by indie music darling Sufjan Stevens. Run, don't walk to see this one.

Call Me By Your Name is in theaters now. Watch the trailer here.

Get Out

From the mind of Jordan Peele, Get Out set the bar high for movies this year. Dubbed a "socially conscious horror movie," the movie stars Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, a black man who visits the family of his white girlfriend (Allison Williams). We won't spoil this one, but let's just say that things in the suburbs are not what they appear. What we will say is that Get Out provides brilliant satire that reminded audiences what the horror genre was before slasher films: a way of providing commentary on legitimately horrifying scenerios of everyday life by way of over-exaggeration (think 1978's Dawn of the Dead, which used zombies in a mall as a metaphor for consumerism). There's a reason this one earned a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Get Out is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon Video. Watch the trailer here

The Post

Is a tight Oscar race really complete without a movie starring Meryl Streep? What about one starring both her and Tom Hanks — a first in Hollywood history? But don't let the star-studded cast of The Post distract you: Steven Spielberg’s latest film tackles a deeply important event, one that is politically relevant in Trump's "fake news" America. Streep plays Katharine Graham, the first female publisher of a large American media outlet (The Washington Post) as she attempts to beat The New York Times in breaking a story about the Pentagon Papers, a massive government cover-up that spanned three decades. Think Spotlight, but instead of taking down the Catholic Church, it's the U.S. government. We're not sure that two journalism-based films can take home the gold in such short succession, but Streep is sure to be nominated.

The Post is in theaters December 22. Watch the trailer here. 

The Big Sick

It's not every day that you come across a movie you can call entirely unlike anything you've seen before — a sentiment commonly expressed after seeing The Big Sick. Kumail Nanjiani's appropriately billed "awkward true story" follows Nanjiani as a lovesick Pakistani-American man pining after an actually-sick girl named Emily (based on Nanjiani's real-life wife, who co-wrote the film). It's a rom-com-drom (romantic-coma-drama-comedy) that's as sincere as it is relatable, with endearingly awkward humor. Plus, Holly Hunter delivers an amazing performance as Emily's mother! Basically, The Big Sick is a much-welcome light in a sea of dark subject matter that defined 2017.

The Big Sick is available to stream on iTunes and Amazon Video. Watch the trailer here.

Dunkirk

It's uncommon for a war film to get so much Oscar buzz, but then again, most war films are not directed by mastermind Christopher Nolan — and Dunkirk has received steady praise since it released in theaters this summer. Set in 1940, the movie recounts the desperate, piecemeal evacuations of 330,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, where they were trapped by the advancing German army. The stellar cast includes Harry Styles (his acting debut), Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, and more. A tale of heroism at its finest, the trailer alone is enough to tug at your heartstrings.

Dunkirk is available to stream on iTunes. Watch the trailer here.

I, Tonya

The tenth slot is a tricky one, but we're giving it to I, Tonya — largely thanks to standout performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Robbie plays Tonya Harding, who was once the greatest figure skater in the world as she rises to the top of her career, only to tumble after her husband attempts to (violently) remove the competition. "America," says Robbie in the film, "they want someone to love, but they want someone to hate." It's a dark comedy that again proves that filmmakers this year have drawn inspiration from the past to speak to America's present. It may be a runner-up for Best Picture, but we've got our bets on Robbie taking home the gold for Best Actress.

I, Tonya is in theaters December 12. Watch the trailer here

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