Oscar nominations were released on January 23rd, and that’s always the perfect time for me to use my love of Excel Pivot Tables to tell you which movies the Academy thinks you should see, based on number of nominations. And then counter that list with the movies I think you should see, based solely on my opinions. I felt like the nominations for Best Picture this year was one of the more tolerable lists in recent years. Usually there are several that I will just flat out refuse to see, this year, there seems to be only one (I don’t care what you tell me about Phantom Thread, I’m not interested).
In any case, enjoy the below lists – because everybody loves lists – I hope it helps you decide what to stream (I used to say ‘rent’ – we’re in the future!). As always, I’ve added Honest Trailers by Screen Junkies and Sins videos from Cinema Sins whenever possible, be sure to ‘like and subscribe’ for both of those, because they do some great work. Also – the descriptions in italics are from IMDB, because they can often summarize faster than I can.
The Academy’s List:
1. The Shape of Water (13 nominations): At a top secret research facility in the 1950s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity. Tying the Return of the King record for most nominations, The Shape of Water has really solidified itself as the leading contender. It’s another beautifully weird and haunting Guillermo del Toro adult fairy tale. Stunningly acted, and extremely well crafted, all the pieces of the production come together to create a beautiful film. I definitely enjoyed it, perhaps not as much as some other del Toro movies, but it was lovely (and weird, really weird).
2. Dunkirk (8 nominations) Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surround by the German Army, and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II. A Christopher Nolan movie telling a tale from 1940 in World War II, this movie should win some technical awards – including the sound editing and mixing.
3. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (7 nominations) A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit. This movie is not based on a true story, instead it uses some reality-based tinges to tell a story about middle-America prejudices and maternal determination.
4. Darkest Hour (6 nominations) 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. This covers some of the same time as Dunkirk, and you have to set aside what you know about some of the horrible things Churchill did in other places at other times to see him as the hero of this story. Gary Oldman is probably a lock for the best actor award.
5. Phantom Thread (6 nominations) Set in 1950s 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. This is what I would call a typical Oscar-type movie, and sounds horrifically boring on almost every level. Daniel Day Lewis has stated he is now retired from acting, so this might be the last time you see him, so if you love Daniel Day Lewis - or sewing - see this!
6. Blade Runner 2049 (5 nominations) A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years. A beautiful looking movie that stays true to the original while extending the story in an interesting way. It’s too long, and drags a bit, but visually is amazing and does have some great action.
7. Lady Bird (5 nominations) In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California. No Oscar season would be complete without a pretentious coming of age story, and here’s the one for this year. This is an unpopular opinion, but I personally did not care for it. Now, that is not to say that it is not exceptionally well crafted. Greata Gerwig wrote a semi-autobiographical story, and directed it herself. This allows it to stay very true to its origins. It has a great performance by Saorise Ronan, and an even better performance by Laurie Metcalf. It’s just not in my wheelhouse, and I found all the characters annoying.
8. Call Me By Your Name (4 nominations). In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father’s research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape. Here’s another very typical Oscar-y movie. Stunningly shot, and beautifully acted, it’s the second punch in the Timothee Chalamet combo this year (he’s also in Lady Bird).
9. Get Out (4 nominations) It’s time for a young African-American to meet with his white girlfriend’s parents for a weekend at their secluded estate in the woods, but before long, the friendly and polite ambience will give way to a nightmare. By now, you really should have seen this movie. It’s a fantastic social thriller by Jordan Peele, and has some classic horror elements, with some additional social awkwardness. The performances are all exceptional, and the story is fantastic.
10. Mudbound (4 nominations) Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war. This is a Netflix movie that has been recognized with the bigger studio pictures, so it is absolutely another step in redefining where you can get your movies. With amazing performances from Mary J. Blige and Jason Mitchell, it’s a tough story, but wonderfully done.
11. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (4 nominations) Rey develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker, who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares for battle with the first order. Since I enjoyed the Force Awakens, and loved Rogue One, I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this movie – but it really blew me away. The performances are amazing, including Mark Hamill taking my breath away as a Luke who goes from hopeless to a source of hope for others. Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia is quietly powerful, and the new crew of Resistance fighters led by John Boyega and Daisey Ridley makes me excited for whatever is coming next. Wide, sweeping shots of several new planets also take the look of this movie a step above.
12. Baby Driver (3 nominations) After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail. Here is another one that I can agree was expertly crafted, but that I did not particularly care for. The way the music Baby is obsessed with lines up with the action is amazing, and the car chases are exceptional, I wasn’t blown away by the performances, plus it does have the extra burden of Kevin Spacey, and this one did not choose to replace him with Christopher Plummer – although thinking about that now, it would have been interesting for this movie!
13. I, Tonya (3 nominations) Competitive figure skater Tonya Harding rises amoungst the ranks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but her future in the activity is thrown into doubt when her ex-husband intervenes. A really interesting take on the “incident” focusing on Tonya’s rise in the figure skating community and battle with the status quo. The movie is shot documentary style, with each of the characters in interview settings with the scenes played out in between – with several characters stating that what was just shown was not true. It’s an interesting take on this story of a bunch of idiots.
14. Coco (2 nominations) 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. I didn’t see this because it felt like it was almost exactly the same as The Book Of Life (which I loved) which was released a few years ago. I’ve been told it’s a bit different and worth a look, so who knows, maybe I’ll get around to it.
15. The Post (2 nominations) 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. With a timely story and an incredible pedigree (Spielberg directed with Hanks and Streep!), you would have thought this would have way more nominations.
16. Victoria & Abdul (2 nominations) Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim. Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria for the umpteenth time in this story about one of her friendships.
17. Dear Basketball (1 nomination) An animated telling of Kobe Bryant’s poem, “Dear Basketball”. From this point down, we’re into the single nominations, and there are many more, but I wanted to keep this to a top 20, so the rest are ones I saw, enjoyed, and will recommend. This one I’m including because it means that Kobe Bryant is now an Oscar nominee, and because the poem is lovely, and the animation beautiful. If he wins, he’ll have exactly the same amount of Oscars as Suicide Squad
18. Molly’s Game (1 nomination) The true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target. I really enjoyed this movie. It’s written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, which means there is a lot of standing around and talking, but it’s really fast-paced and interesting. The story is really surprising as Molly accidentally falls into a position of running these crazy high stakes games. I also felt like Kevin Costner deserved a nomination for his supporting role as her father. He is shockingly good with very little screen time.
19. Kong: Skull Island (1 nomination) A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden. Another one I really enjoyed – a group of soldiers on the way home from the end of the Vietnam war has to escort these scientists to a place no one should go. With the biggest screen Kong to date, this movie really sets up what should be an epic Godzilla/Kong fight. Plus, Samuel L. Jackson.
20. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 (1 nomination) The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. Easily one of the best of the year, this movie manages to be simultaneously hilarious, charming, touching, action-packed, and downright entertaining. The performances are lovely, especially the team as they grow closer together.
My List – out of 44 seen and reviewed this year, here is what I thought was best. And of course, by best – I mean what I found the most enjoyable, not at all speaking to quality or execution here:
1. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi – One and Two on this list are super close for me, but The Last Jedi really closed out the year on a high note for me. I loved the transition of Luke’s character from grumpy and hopeless former Jedi on self-imposed exile (what is with Jedis and self-imposed exiles?) to the cocky Jedi Master we saw challenge Jabba the Hutt is fantastic. I loved the development of Rey’s character – and the idea of her coming from nothing, and having developing power without owing anything to a bloodline or someone else really won me over.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 – Again, just pure cinematic joy. I know some felt it was too long, the villain was weak, and the final battle was the same as the previous movie. Yes, it was long, but I actually liked Kurt Russel’s version of Ego, and while the final battle was similar, that last scene between Yondo and Peter was fantastic. Plus, let’s not even get started about Baby Groot, and how wonderful he was – especially the scene where he explains why he doesn’t like hats! I can’t wait for the next go-round with the Guardians.
3. Thor Ragnarok: Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization. I loved this movie. Taika Watiti managed to completely revitalize Thor and give him what was almost a complete action-comedy. Including several new characters, and some interesting previous characters – with the best bits of Dr. Strange so far – I really enjoyed this immensely.
4. The Big Sick: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail Nanjiani and grad student Emily Gardner fall in love but struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail finds himself forced to face her feisty parents, his family’s expectations, and his true feelings. I have no idea why this wasn’t nominated for Oscars all over the place. It got nominated for writing, but both Ray Romano and Holly Hunter could have been nominated, as well as Kumail himself. The story is simple and straightforward, but elevated by the performances of everyone in it.
5. Spiderman Homecoming: Peter Parker balances his life as an ordinary high school student in Queens with his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man, and finds himself on the trail of a new menace prowling the skies of New York City. This movie caught me by surprise – Tom Holland is easily the best SpiderMan we’ve had, and he has such charm and genuine-ness. The John Hughes-ness of the high school bits of this story make sense, and Michael Keaton is fantastic as the Vulture, a character I for sure thought would never make it to a movie screen.
6. Girls Trip: When four lifelong friends travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival, sisterhoods are rekindled, wild sides are rediscovered, and there’s enough dancing, drinking, brawling, and romancing to make the Big Easy blush. This movie made me laugh so hard! Yes, it’s predictable, and yes, all the drama could have been solved by better communication, but it’s the performances from the four leads that take the standard fare and elevate it into something truly special.
7. Get Out: Again, see this movie. But, if you have the chance (they are re-releasing it to the theaters for Oscar hype) go see it in the theater. It really does make a difference to see this movie with an audience. It really heightens the experience as everyone begins to share the lead’s discoveries that the house he is staying in is not quite what he thought it was!
8. Kong: Skull Island: Every once in a while, you need a big, loud, creature-feature, and this one is better than most. Kong is absolutely the king of his domain, and it was refreshing to see him just kick ass on his own island instead of being bullied, captured, and forced into a city.
9. The Shape of Water: This is another one on which you can believe the hype. It’s weirdly elegant and hauntingly beautiful. Check it out, it’s really unlike anything else this past year – and who would have thought something that outside-the-box would get the most nominations? Spoiler alert - a mute lady has sex with a fish guy! And it was nominated more than any other movie!
10. Wonder Woman: When a pilot crashes and tells of conflict in the outside world, Diana, an Amazonian warrior in training, leaves home to fight a war, discovering her full powers and true destiny. How did this get zero nominations? If not for Patty Jenkins’s direction (which was fantastic), then at least costuming, sound editing, effects, or any other technical award that they begrudgingly give to the big blockbusters? The movie is good – it is not flawless, it for sure has too much Zack Snyder on it, but it was entertaining, and Gal Gadot was a shining light as Diana.
11. Molly’s Game: There is a surprising amount of crossover between my selections and the Academy’s selections this year, that may be unprecedented. I really enjoyed this one. With exceptional performances from Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain, it was fascinating to see this woman of constant drive shift that drive from Olympic Moguls skiing to high-stakes poker. I also enjoyed doing a little digging to see who the players she didn’t mention might be, and let me tell you – if I didn’t like Toby Macguire before (I didn’t), I really don’t now.
12. Fate of the Furious: When a mysterious woman seduces Dom inot the world of terrorism and a betrayal of those closest to him, the crew face trials that will test them as never before. Yes, indeed – what happens when Dom is forced to betray his family and their Coronas? Well, huge car chases and spectacular action sequences while Tyrese wise-cracks, obviously. This one is not nearly as good as some of the previous installments, but it is entertaining enough – I enjoyed Charlize Theron chewing the scenery as a whispering cyber-terrorist, and Helen Mirren as Jason Statham and Luke Evans’s mom, and man oh man, the chemistry between Statham and the Rock? I really want that spin-off, whether or not Vin Diesel wants to allow it!
13. The Foreigner: A humble businessman with a buried past seeks justice when his daughter is killed in an act of Terrorism. A cat-and-mouse conflict ensues with a government official, whose past may hold clues to the killers’ identities. This was a bit of a surprise to me, It was a little uneven, but I really enjoyed Jackie Chan’s step into a more serious role as a father who will go to great lengths for justice for his daughter and Pierce Brosnan as a shady official with a shadier past who seems to be running a shady organization, thinking he’s doing good by controlling bad. But, as you know, you can’t control bad.
14. The Disaster Artist: When Greg Sestero, an aspiring film actor, meets the weird and mysterious Tommy Wiseau in an acting class, they form a unique friendship and travel to Hollywood to make their dreams come true. James Franco’s ongoing skeeziness notwithstanding, this movie manages to be a surprisingly genuine tale about following through on your dreams and the inspiration of true friendship. It’s hilarious and charming, and worth a watch.
15. John Wick Chapter 2: After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life. Man, I really wanted to see John Wick get to go back to his quiet retirement with his new dog. But after a former contact demands he deliver on a favor, he breaks a rule and everyone is after him. Keanu is again amazing as John Wick, and while this one is not as good as the first, it’s still non-stop action all the way through, with the fascinating Continental playing a little less of a role. The new dog makes it through this one.
And of course, just for fun – my personal list of the worst movies of last year. Or, more accurately, the movies I enjoyed the least, again, not commenting on quality here.
1. The Circle: A woman lands a dream job at a powerful tech company called The Circle, only to uncover an agenda that will affect the lives of all humanity. Okay – this was easily the worst movie of the year for me, and I saw Resident Evil 5, or was it 6? The extremely over-rated Emma Watson is flat and unrelatable in this story where she takes a job with a company that is pioneering the ability to watch everyone all the time, and as opposed to how you think the story is going to go (she realizes this is a terrible blow to personal freedom and takes them down from within), instead she takes down the two in charge, but works with the company to expand their surveillance even more. Tom Hanks has almost nothing to do, Patton Oswalt tries, but has little screen time, Karen Gillan is good, but wasted, John Boyega is interesting but disappears quickly. The story makes no sense, the acting is not great, and the movie is shot weird too. All-around, not great.
2. Justice League: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy. Sloppy and uneven, this is just not my Justice League, and that would be fine if the movie was better. Batman would never assemble the league, Superman just needs to be left out in the yellow sun if injured that badly, and Wonder Woman should have more to do. As opposed to Man of Steel and BvS, there were parts of this I liked: I am intrigued by this Aquaman, and am looking forward to his stand-alone. I enjoyed some of the humor they tried to incorporate. I enjoyed the more action-packed Alfred, and the introduction of Cyborg. And Superman, near the end of this (in the Joss Whedon portions) finally gets closer to being the Superman I am familiar with. The rest of it is sluggish, confusing, bleak, and why is the villain all CG, why not cast a big dude in a suit? The Snyder-verse continues to make one bad decision after another.
3. The Great Wall: European mercenaries searching for black powder become embroiled in the defense of the Great Wall of China against a horde of monstrous creatures. I will say that I did enjoy a lot of this movie – it needed to do away with the “European mercenaries” entirely and just be a Chinese epic historical fantasy movie set in medieval China. I liked the creature design, and the way the soldiers were designated by color and role, but every time Matt Damon was on screen, it just pulled me right out of the story.
4. Geostorm: When the network of satellites designed to control the global climate starts to attack Earth, it’s a race against the clock for its creator to uncover the real threat before a worldwide Geostorm wipes out everything and everyone. Sometimes movies like this are so bad they are good – this one is just so bad. Gerard Butler tries his best, but honestly, there’s no way I buy him as a brilliant scientist responsible for weather controlling satellites. The movie is rough, but it’s almost worth sitting through it for the final confrontation between Ed Harris and Andy Garcia.
5. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: A dark force threatens Alpha, a vast metropolis and home to species from a thousand different planets. Special operatives Valerian and Laureline must race to identify the marauding menace and safeguard not just Alpha, but the future of the universe. I really loved The Fifth Element, and was looking forward to a return to Luc Besson’s weird view of future-space. This is just a beautiful mess. Some of it looks great, but the story makes no sense, and the two leads are incredibly unlikeable. I do wonder what it could have been with some tighter editing and different leads – I suppose we’ll never know!
There were others last year that I also did not enjoy (King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Kingsman 2, The Mummy, etc.), but we’ll keep it to five. Overall, a pretty great year movie-wise, and like I said – I don’t know that I have ever had so many in my top list cross over with the academy’s list. Hopefully that’s a trend that continues, if the academy can continue to broaden its definitions of what is Oscar-worthy!