I Watched All 9 Oscar-Nominated Best Picture Nominees. Here’s What I Thought.

It’s Oscar season!

And I made a personal bet to watch all 9 Oscar-nominated Best Picture nominees before the live broadcast. This year’s nominees are an impressive roster of diverse movies that will make the 2018 Oscars feel exciting and unpredictable. So, without further ado, here’s what I thought of 2018 Best Picture Oscar nominees. (Some minor spoilers ahead!)

Call Me by Your Name               

Call Me by Your Name is a lush, vibrant film that follows the romance between seventeen-year-old Elio, played by Timothée Chalamet, and graduate student Oliver, played Armie Hammer. Set in northern Italy, Call Me by Your Name is a warm, vibrant gay romance about the experience of falling in love for the first time. The film explores male sexuality as a teenager, and examines how that interacts with gay sexuality. Timothée Chalamet gives an emotionally raw performance, while Armine Hammer is charismatic in his role. The movie is unafraid to tackle sexuality explicitly – there is a particularly memorable scene with a peach that encapsulates all of the angst and embarrassment of teenage male sexuality. There are other memorable scenes such as the heart-breaking and compassionate speech that Mark Stuhlbarg (who plays Elio’s father) gives, as well as the end credits which are emotionally devastating (7/10).

Darkest Hour

I was dreading to watch Darkest Hour. I went in with very low expectations because Darkest Hour looked like a standard historical biopic. Don’t get me wrong – Darkest Hour is most certainly a standard historical biopic – but it’s not terrible. The most interesting focal point for the movie is the political drama – the mystification of certain historical events that now seem pre-determined. The overhanging legacy of former prime minister Neville Chamberlin and Lord Halifax pursuing peace talks with Germany even in Churchill’s War Ministry seemed rational and highly likely given the overwhelming likelihood of the entire destruction of the British army at Dunkirk. Gary Oldman gives a convincing performance – he yells a lot in the film, and I suppose that’s good enough for an Oscar (6.5/10).

Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk, about the namesake evacuation during WWII, is a searing and visceral film. Narratively unconventional, Dunkirk features minimal dialogue and is told from three perspectives corresponding to land, sea and air. The audience feel emotionally detached from the characters, partly because the characters barely speak, partly because they all look the same. As a result, the characters aren’t driving the plot; the plot is driving the characters. Not only that, one of the more interesting cinematic formal experimentations in Dunkirk is how all three temporally varying storylines intersect and interact with each other, illuminating and recasting each storyline differently. One example is the character arc of Cillian Murphy from heroic leader to a worn-down shell of a man. The intensity of Dunkirk can mainly be attributed to this crazy auditory illusion known as Shepard tone, where the increasing ratcheting of tension parallels the infinite instrumental crescendo (9/10).

Get Out

I watched Get Out in a packed theater. You could feel the energy in the room. All I knew about Get Out was what I saw from a trailer – a horror mixed with social commentary – directed by Jordan Peele, no less! Consequently, I went into the movie more or less blind. Get Out was one of – if not the best – moviegoing experience I have ever had. In more ways than one, Get Out is a perfect movie. Subversive, hilarious and unnerving, Get Out speaks to the cultural zeitgeist of the United States in 2018. Get Out is genre destabilizing; I’m shocked how Jordan Peele pulls off this careful balancing act of comedy, horror thriller and social commentary. Lil Rey Howrey (who plays the TSA agent), steals every scene he is in. Not only that, Jordan Peele masterfully plays with the audience. You expect one ending, but you get an emotionally satisfying and down-right hilarious other (9.5/10).

Lady Bird

Lady Bird is the directorial debut from writer-director Greta Gerwig. Lady Bird is an unpretentious, coming-of-age film about Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, who desperately wants to escape Sacramento to the cultural center of New York. Lady Bird is a fresh, bold movie from a new female voice in Hollywood. Lady Bird is very, very funny. The humor mostly comes from the honesty with which Saoirse Ronan (who plays Lady Bird) tackles boyfriends, high school and family. Is Lady Bird a good movie? Yes. Is it one of the best movie of all time deserving of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes from top critics? I’m not sure. Don’t expect to be blown away by this movie. If you moderate your expectations for Lady Bird as a charming, unassuming slice of life movie, you’ll have a great time (7/10).

Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread is the latest film from Paul Thomas Anderson, who delivers a character study about a relationship between a cantankerous English fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, and his model-turned-love-interest Alma, played by Vicky Krieps. Not too much happens in terms of plot in Phantom Thread, but the movie examines the uneasy power dynamic that begins to take shape between Mr. Woodcock and Alma. What begins as sensual eroticism slowly devolves into a sadistic, dysfunctional relationship. Bolstered by a haunting film score and gorgeous costume design, Phantom Thread moves in a dignified and stately manner, but has a foreboding undercurrent of manic discomfort, along with zany and uncomfortable humor that percolates throughout the film. One of the things that stuck me was the film’s preoccupation with food – I have not seen a poached egg so lovingly shot, or mushrooms in butter so decadently cooked. Although a little over-bloated in terms of movie run time, the character resolution is satisfying enough that one can forgive that (7.5/10).

The Post

The Post is Steven Spielberg’s latest Oscar bait film. Although I went in with low expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by The Post. It was interesting to learn about how the Washington Post was a “local” newspaper under financial distress, competing against the behemoth of New York Times for the Pentagon Papers. Meryl Streep gives a commanding, grounded performance as Katherine Graham, the head of the Washington Post. Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, and no one is better than playing Tom Hanks than Tom Hanks is. The Post is a very “Hollywood” movie – polished, sleek, and competently made. There are slight contrived plot moments for suspense –  why can’t the Washington Post wait for few more days before publishing about the Pentagon Papers? But the Post was overall suspenseful and thrilling (8/10).

The Shape of Water

Set in Cold War 1960’s United States, Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water develops an unexpected romance between a mute janitor and an amphibian monster. This is a visually stunning film with immaculate cinematography in the terms of lighting and color palate. Equal parts sci-fi and romance, Shape of Water is strung together with a heist and a musical. Sally Hawkins tackles a challenging role, but gives an emotionally raw performance through non-verbal communication. Michael Shannon, as always, gives a menacing performance as the main villain. Although it drags in the third act, where the film loses momentum and struggles how to end, Shape of Water is an unusual, but delightful film (7/10).

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is the latest film from the playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh. Three Billboards is a beautiful, dark and an emotionally moving film. Reminiscent of Martin McDonagh’s first full-length directorial debut of In Bruges, Three Billboards has all the dramatic moments of a well-written, beautifully staged play in cinematic form. Frances McDormand is a formidable presence in the film, while Sam Rockwell has a surprising redemptive character arc. McDonagh’s wry sense of humor percolates throughout the film, while the narrative logic of violence and retribution is satisfying from a story-telling perspective. Deep, dark and contemplative, Three Billboards has emotional staying power (8.5/10).

Some final remarks:

I would love for Get Out to win! Although it’s more likely than ever for a movie like Get Out to win nowadays, it probably won’t happen. Along those lines, Lady Bird or Call Me by Your Name would be awesome winners as well. I would be personally happy if Three Billboards, or Dunkirk won, although it looks like that The Shape of Water will take home the Oscar. (Spoiler Alert: It did.)

Blurred Lines: Robin Thicke and Misogyny

The music industry is rife with misogynistic rhetoric.

It’s not hard to encounter anti-feminists attitudes when the music industry is altogether saturated and suffused with it. Just turn on a radio. Any given song, on average, will proclaim some sort of misogynistic opinion. In fact, it’s arguable that the hip hop genre has become an institution of female objectification and misogyny. Such discourse within the public sphere naturalizes misogyny as commonplace and normative. We, as a society, are supposed to marginalize women, are supposed to demean women.

So, why have I become feminist all of a sudden?

Answer: Robin Thicke’s latest single, “Blurred Lines.”

Recently, Thicke has been getting a lot of backlash and media attention for his song, “Blurred Lines,” which has been criticized for its misogynistic overtones. Coupled with the fact that “Blurred Lines” has been #1 on the Billboard for weeks on end now, even becoming a worldwide hit, it serves as a springboard to discuss the underlying issue of male chauvinism in the music industry.

Plus, “Blurred Lines” is embarrassingly misogynistic. It is cringe-worthy how blatantly anti-feminist it is:

Ok, now he was close
Tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal
Baby, it’s in your nature

“Domesticate,” as used by Robin Thicke, is a loaded term to say the least. It carries numerous connotations ranging from submissiveness to housewifery. Given that we live in a time that is increasingly dominated by career women, “domestic” takes an almost regressive and counterrevolutionary tinge, a word that is always already entrenched in the traditional patriarchal lifestyle.

Yet still worse, Thicke amplifies this anti-feminist charged word of “domesticate” by strictly following its definition: to tame a wild animal, in this case, women in general. (Are you cringing yet?) Thicke contends that it is in the “nature” of a woman to be an “animal.” That is, the essence of womanhood is to necessarily be an animal, i.e., not a human. So that what constitutes femininity is on par with the savageness of beasts. Only man occupies the status of human beings, who needs to “domesticate” the feral species that is woman.

Of course, this is not unheard of. For instance, if we remind ourselves that the derogatory insult of “bitch” is rooted upon equating females to the status of animals, i.e., a female dog, we can recognize that Thicke is (unconsciously?) drawing upon an already ingrained reservoir of cultural prejudices against females. As a society, we are coerced into adopting a male-centric language, something which the French Philosopher Derrida would have called “phallogocentric” discourse.

Enter Robin Thicke to the stage, who’s going to free the “domesticated” woman:

Just let me liberate you …
That man is not your maker

Here women are rendered without any agency:  Who’s to say that women need to be “liberated” in the first place? Here women cannot self-determine whether or not they need to “liberate” themselves. Only men can decide that for women.  It is as if the very selfhood of a woman is completely dependent upon the whim of a man. It is as if women are helpless in the matter, until men come along.

The speaker argues that “that man is not your maker.” But implicit within this sentiment is that the speaker himself is her maker. And, thus, has every right to liberate his creation, his property.

Moreover, “liberate” takes on an almost erotic signification. That is, it is liken to the act of sexual intercourse.  So that when the male speaker has sex with the woman, it will “liberate” her from domestication, free the woman to her primitive, animalistic sexual nature, as suggested in Rap Genius. In “Blurred Lines,” women cannot even take charge of their own sexuality.

Am I (and everyone else) reading too much into this?

I don’t think so.

As much as Robin Thicke wants to spin this, by contending his song is “a feminist movement within itself,” “saying that women and men are equals as animals and as power,” the issue still remains that Thicke uses provocative anti-feminist language, which represents  man in the position of political and sexual power.

Plus, as much as I believe that Robin Thicke is not a misogynist, and even if the song was supposed to be tongue-and-cheek, most hinted at by the line, “what rhymes with hug me?” it still does not take away from the fact that, on the whole, the song is overwhelmingly and alarmingly misogynistic. It does not dismiss the fact that, if the song was supposed to be lighthearted, Thicke disastrously failed to communicate this properly.

If we do give Thicke the benefit of the doubt, “Blurred Lines,” as it stands, is still an immense cultural artifact that encapsulates the present and pervasive misogynistic undercurrents of not only the music industry, but also society in general.  (And we haven’t even touched the unrated music video.)

So, is it a blurred? Or has Robin Thicke most definitely crossed the line?

A Newfound Respect for Lil Wayne

I’ve always had a passionate and strong prejudice against Lil Wayne as a rapper.

Of course, this is completely unwarranted; I haven’t heard enough songs by Lil Wayne to even form this opinion for myself. In fact, for a very long time I deliberately avoided his music. But, hey, that’s exactly what prejudice is all about!

To be sure, I’m not what you would call a connoisseur of rap music. And I won’t present myself as one. Nonetheless, I try to appreciate good art. And I have no quarrel in arguing that rap music, as a medium, can and has been elevated to an art form and, as such, can be evaluated to a high standard.

At an early age, I was introduced to rap music through Eminem. His sheer emotional intensity, lyrical capabilities and astounding multisyllabic rhymes compelled me to consider rap as a serious, creative endeavor. Since then, I have always used Eminem as a benchmark of artistic merit  in rap music.

For me, Lil Wayne has always stood on the opposite end of the spectrum from Eminem. (Prejudice, remember?)

Yet this all quickly changed when I recently became obsessed with Lil Wayne’s “6 Foot 7 Foot” rap song. (Yes, I know it’s an old song. I’m soo outdated, aren’t I?)

Namely, I became obsessed with (1) Lil Wayne’s impressive rhyme scheme, and (2) his insane wordplay.

Can I just say now that Lil Wayne’s rhymes in “6 Foot 7 Foot” is really damn good?

Right of the bat, Lil Wayne hits us with a three part multisyllabic rhyme scheme (also known as a feminine rhyme in poetry):

Excuse my charisma, vodka with a spritzer
Swagger down pat, call my shit Patricia
Young Money militia, and I am the commissioner
You don’t want start Weezy, ’cause the F is for Finisher
So misunderstood but what’s a world without enigma?

The only rhyme that doesn’t quite fit into this pattern is “finisher.” (The first syllable doesn’t have the “uh” sound like the rest of the words do.) But I think we can give Lil Wayne the benefit of the doubt here. The most astounding feature of his rhyme scheme is that it isn’t stereotypical; the rhymes are really unexpected and original.

Another example,

Just talked to moms, told her she the sweetest
I beat the beat up, call it self defense
Swear man, I be seeing through these niggas like sequins
Niggas think they He-Men, pow, pow, the end

I bring this up mostly because the rhyme scheme is too subtle to notice on the first listening, but Lil Wayne is most definitely operating under a rigid pattern and still delivering some serious verbal abuse. (Seriously, how do you simultaneously rhyme “sequins” and still give an insult?)

My only gripe here is that Lil Wayne forces his rhyme scheme towards the end (no pun intended). Weezy pronounces “the end” with the stress on the article theinstead of the latter word end, which is the opposite way of how you regularly pronounce it.

Or, to put it in more fancy terms, Lil Wayne uses a unconventional trochee, instead of an iamb, in order to fit his pre-established rhyme scheme. (Sorry, couldn’t resist applying literary terms on a rap artist.)

All things aside, Lil Wayne’s rhymes are still phenomenal. I’ll leave you all with this one final impressive rhyme by Lil Wayne:

Glass half empty, half full, I’ll spill ya
Try me and run into a wall, outfielder

Let’s quickly go over Lil Wayne’s wordplay:

Got the girl twisted ’cause she open when you twist her
Never met the bitch, but I fuck her like I missed her

So far Lil Wayne employs a standard, run of the mill euphemism; sexual intercourse is almost liken to the performance of “twisting” a bottle, “the bottle” in this case being the objectifying, misogynistic metaphor for a woman (Or “bitch,” to use Lil Wayne’s terms).

Life is the bitch, and death is her sister
Sleep is the cousin, what a fuckin’ family picture

Now this, I think, is Lil Wayne’s most sophisticated move. Weezy completely inverts our expectations on our heads. The bottle metaphor is not a figurative image of a woman per se. It’s the figurative image for life itself.

Or, to put it more boldly: Lil Wayne is having sex with the figurative embodiment of life.          (I know, right?)

You know father time, we all know mother nature
It’s all in the family, but I am of no relation

Lil Wayne then finishes the rest of his extended metaphor by detailing the father and mother of the metaphysical family in question. He ends it by stating he’s not related to any of them. (Incest would be gross, you know?)

On another note, this is literally my favorite line from the song:

And I call it like I see it, and my glasses on
But most of y’all don’t get the picture less the flash is on

And this,

People say I’m borderline crazy, sorta kinda
Woman of my dreams, I don’t sleep so I can’t find her

This one as well,

Mind so sharp, I fuck around and cut my head off

Okay, okay I’m sure you get the point now.

In total, I’ve dismantled a chunk of my prejudice against Lil Wayne. The rest, hopefully, will follow suit.