Here's Why You Need to Watch the Oscars This Year

Your guide to this year's Academy Awards, for casual movie watchers and film buffs alike.
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We're a week away from the biggest night in show business, and I couldn't be more excited. 

On March 4, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will hold their 90th Annual Academy Awards, aka The Oscars. Some of you probably are just as excited as I am, having spent countless Saturdays at the local indie movie theater watching all the nominees and talking nonstop about how Holly Hunter was snubbed for her role in The Big Sick and why The Disaster Artist's exclusion from nearly every category was related to James Franco's recent fall from grace. 

And the rest of you have no idea what I'm talking about or why anyone would care about an awards ceremony that seems to celebrate only politically motivated "Oscar-bait" films made by old, white people (mostly men). (Though this year's slate of presenters seem to be breaking the old/white/male trend!)

And that's why this year instead of just listing the people I think should win awards, I will be going in-depth on why the Academy Awards matter, why this year's nominees (and eventual winners) matter, and why those who weren't nominated are equally as significant as those who were. 

While there is still something to be said for how the Academy does primarily honor movies that aren't mainstream or what most people would watch, awards ceremonies like this one affect the entire film industry - so even if you really hate independent films, the awards do actually impact everyone who watches movies at all

For instance, when independent films broach "political" subject matter like sexual orientation, race, and classism, and receive awards like the Oscars, those subjects become less taboo, more open for discussion, and more likely to make their way into the mainstream. 

So why is this year different? Well...

In case you've been living under a rock, there are a few things you should know before this Oscars season. 

First, many of our once-revered and even beloved male stars, producers, and directors have been very publicly revealed to be sexual harassers, rapists, and assaulters. These include Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, Ed Westwick (best known as Chuck Bass from Gossip Girl), and Louis C.K. And the evidence against the majority of the accused is pretty convincing. 

In the wake of these revelations, two new key movements have formed. The first is the #MeToo movement, which was and is a Twitter and Facebook campaign that draws attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment, assault, and rape in the industry. Many women in Hollywood participated, posting their stores with #MeToo, and even some men joined the discussion. Terry Crews also came forward with his own story of being assaulted by a producer, and last week Brendan Fraser joined him.

The second is the Time's Up movement, which provides legal funds and recourse for women who have experienced sexual harassment and assault in the workplace in a variety of industries, including Hollywood. The movement made its first big splash at the Golden Globes in January, where attendees to the ceremony were asked to wear black.

Something else that pretty much always follows the Oscars is discussion about race. This has been especially true since 2015, when all those nominated in the lead and supporting actor and actress categories were white, generating the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite. It happened again in 2016, spurring even more outrage. 

This year there are definitely more persons of color nominated in many of the categories than has historically been the case, but as many have pointed out, there's still a long way to go

Of course, not everything at this year's awards is charged with politics. Some of it is just fun, like movies should be. 

Read on to see why this year's Oscars is so important -- and also so cool. 

Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele are Nominated for Best Director -- and It Matters

Some of the biggest buzz surrounding this year's nominees is around two Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nominees (whose films were also nominated for Best Picture): Greta Gerwig, who directed Lady Bird, and Jordan Peele, who directed Get Out. 

Why is this a big deal? Well, Jordan Peele is the first black person in history to be nominated for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture for a directorial debut, and one of only three people in history to receive nominations for all three in one year, called "trifecta honors". 

Greta Gerwig, too, is one of only 5 women nominated for Best Director in history, and is only excluded from trifecta honors because of a film she co-directed back in 2008 (though, let's be real, Lady Bird is her real directorial debut). 

She's my pick for Best Director not because she's a woman, but because I've seen Lady Bird more than once and I literally can't handle how much I love it, or how well it was made. 

Greta Gerwig is also easily one of my favorite people in all of Hollywood, and I was truly impressed with her directorial debut. 

The other nominees for Best Director are Guillermo del Toro, who gets his first directorial nomination this year, and Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan, who are no stranger to Oscar nominations or wins. 

But since GDT is facing accusations of plagiarism for his film, my hope is that either Gerwig or Peele will take home the award for their impressive debuts -- and maybe for Best Picture as well.

(But again, if I'm honest, I would love for Greta and Lady Bird to win all the things.)

Rebecca Morrison was Nominated for Cinematography and It's Kind of a Big Deal

If you haven't seen Mudbound, a Netflix original film, then you should definitely watch it as soon as you finish this article. 

Why? Well, it's great. 

But also? Rachel Morrison was the cinematographer and she is the first woman in history to be nominated for an Oscar in Cinematography

Which is kind of a big deal. 

Why did it take so long for a woman to get nominated? Well, that's a longer story with lots of moving parts, but suffice it to say that sexism is a real thing. 

What is cinematography, you ask? The cinematographer (or Director of Photography, DP for short) is the person who works with the director to figure out how everything should be filmed. Traditionally, the director has the creative "vision" for the film, and they work with the DP to figure out lighting, camera lenses, how the camera will move, what moods or emotions the camera will try to capture, and so on. Essentially, the DP figures out how to make the director's "vision" a reality with the camera.

It's a huge part of the filmmaking process, and having a woman nominated is a huge step forward for the industry, where so few women are given a chance to be behind the camera. 

For more work by Rachel Morrison, make sure to check out Marvel's Black Panther, as she was the DP for that movie too! 

Everyone is Talking About Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Maybe you just know Three Billboards as the movie with a really long title you keep forgetting. Even I only call it Three Billboards when I'm talking about it, and this awards season, it's getting a lot of talk

Why? 

Well, people talking about Three Billboards generally fall into one of two groups: people who loved it, and people who hated it. This is one of those movies where there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of people in between (and if you are an in-between person, meet me in the comments and let's discuss). 

People tend to watch this movie and either think, "Wow, what a profound exploration of human nature, redemption, and what it's like to experience grief and live in middle America," or "Wow, that was a sloppily written, borderline racist, and overly self-important movie that entirely lacked self-awareness or context." 

(But pretty much everyone thinks "Wow.")

Let me explain. Three Billboards is a movie about a grieving mother, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), who is frustrated at the lack of progress in the criminal case of her daughter's rape and murder a year before. She calls out the police department (who basically just consists of Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell) with three billboards outside her town of Ebbing, Missouri (and now the title makes sense). These billboards are shown below. 

Now maybe that doesn't sound racist or sloppy or even that profound. But wait, there's more (including some minor spoilers). 

In addition to rape, murder, and police inaction, the film also covers: cancer, suicide, divorce, prejudice against little people, domestic violence and abuse, Molotov cocktails, racism, torture, the use of racial and gendered inappropriate language, and yes, even bad dates. 

It's like a black comedy crossed with every Oscar bait film you've ever seen. 

Some people like that it covers many difficult subjects, and even believe that the film managed to deal with all its subject matter in an appropriate and complex way, or even that it held religious messaging about grace and redemption. Others, myself included, felt like it tried to do way too much, and succeeded at handling very little of it well (if any of it). 

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) in front of two of her billboards

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) in front of two of her billboards

Wesley Morris of the New York Times even called it "a cupcake rolled in glass. It all just feels off". 

Another criticism lobbed at the film is that it was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who is a white British man. A white British man making a movie about racism and violence against women in middle America. To some, his movie came across as someone trying to write about something he doesn't (and couldn't possibly) understand

But again, not everyone agrees. 

Suffice it to say that the film has stirred up some controversy. Despite this (or, possibly, because of this) it's an Oscar frontrunner, having picked up quite a lot of awards this season, especially for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. 

For this reason, it's my belief that McDormand and Rockwell will pick up the awards in their category at the Oscars, for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor respectively, though I would truthfully prefer different people won -- not because their performances were lacking, but because I think the film was lacking. 

While I agree that the film did address the complexity of human beings, I think it did so without taking any moral stance on issues that require a moral stance to be taken. Nearly every character does morally questionable things in the movie, but the only thing the movie consistently says is wrong is rape -- when things like torture, racism, and even murder are toyed with without batting an eye. 

Wherever you stand on the issue of Three Billboards, it will be a talking point this season, and will likely walk away with multiple awards (but hopefully not Best Picture). 

Mary J Blige is Making History

It's been a great year for Mary J. Blige.

She broke a record for being nominated for an acting award AND a song award for the same movie in the same year. 

Let me say that again. 

A woman of color was the first person to do so well at acting and singing in a movie that she got nominated for both. 

And she totally deserved it. Mary J. Blige said the reason she was drawn to her role in Mudbound was because it made her totally disappear into character. 

“There's no singing, there's no weaves, there's no nails, nothing — and that's what I wanted,” she said. And while it's true that there's nothing externally to identify her as Mary J. Blige the singer, she also fully takes on her character and gives what I definitely consider to be an Oscar-worthy performance. 

I am 100% rooting for her to win Best Supporting Actress. Even better, if she won, it would be the second year in a row that a woman of color won the award for Best Supporting Actress, following Viola Davis' win for Fences last year. 

This would also be the case if Octavia Spencer won. Spencer was nominated for her role in The Shape of Water, and she was also nominated last year for her role in Hidden Figures. 

The other nominees competing with Blige are Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread) and Allison Janney (I, Tonya), who has swept up the awards in this category so far this season. She's a frontrunner for sure, but my money is still with the ever-talented Mary J. Blige. 

Timothée Chalamet Is Everyone's Favorite New Actor...For Good Reason

Confession: I have a crush on Timothée Chalamet

Whether he's playing an anarchist teenager in Lady Bird or a smitten teenager in Call Me By Your Name, Chalamet is definitely my favorite new actor (and that even beats out the other love of my life, Alden Ehrenreich, AKA the young Han Solo). 

He's nominated for his role as Elio in Call Me By Your Name. The film is about the excitement and heartbreak of first love, as he embarks on a summer romance with Oliver, the grad student staying with his family in Italy. 

The movie is praised for the way it normalizes homosexual romance, but I think what makes the movie truly great is Chalamet's performance. 

Oliver (Armie Hammer, left) and Elio

Oliver (Armie Hammer, left) and Elio

There's an energy and fire to his performance that perfectly encapsulates the experience of first love. He's so dynamic and engaging in his performance, that it honestly doesn't seem like he's acting. 

There's a scene at the very end of the film, and into the end credits, where he literally just sits in front of a fire and cries while Sufjan Stevens plays in the background and I've never seen anything so moving or realistic in my life

(Come on, how many of us have cried to Sufjan Stevens after a breakup? Just me?)

Chalamet has competition with the likes of Gary Oldman, who blew minds as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, and Daniel Day Lewis who (shocker) killed it in his final role as a crotchety fashion designer in Phantom Thread. The competition is fierce, but of all the nominees, Chalamet was, for me, the most surprising performance and the most moving performance. 

Plus I mean, he's just adorable. 

People Are Divided Over Whether They Like Phantom Thread...But Fashionistas Definitely Are Not

As is the case most years, the nominees for Best Picture were nominated in lots of other categories too, and this is certainly true for Phantom Thread, a dark comedy not everyone enjoyed as much as I did. In addition to nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Score, and Best Supporting Actress, the film was also nominated for Best Costume Design

And it definitely deserves it. 

This shouldn't be entirely surprising, since the whole movie is about fashion, but the costume design is stunning. 

Not gonna lie, when I first saw this dress while watching the movie, I audibly gasped

And not only are the costumes beautiful, they're significant for telling the story and revealing things about the characters. Here's a great interview with the nominee for Costume Design, Mark Bridges, about his inspiration for the clothes and how they do more than make jaws drop. 

Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V Gordon Are Now Officially #RelationshipGoals

One of my absolute favorite movies from last year was The Big Sick, based on the true story of how comedian and star of Silicon Valley, Kumail Nanjiani, met and first started dating his now-wife Emily V. Gordon. They wrote the movie themselves, and then Kumail starred in it with the wonderful Zoe Kazan playing Emily. It follows how they met and fell in love, how Emily got sick and put into a medically-induced coma, and how Kumail and Emily's family dealt with the whole thing. 

I laughed, I cried, I loved it. 

And then they got nominated for Best Original Screenplay

Kumail Nanjiani in The BIg SIck

Kumail Nanjiani in The BIg SIck

It's a great category this year, with movies like Get Out, Lady Bird, Three Billboards, and The Shape of Water also nominated. 

I would be totally okay with Get Out winning over The Big Sick, because let's be real it's Get Out and Jordan freaking Peele. But I came out of seeing The Big Sick (the first time I saw it) telling anyone who would listen that the only thing I want is for Kumail and Emily to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. 

The Disaster Artist Only Got One Nomination... for a Reason

The Disaster Artist was an early favorite for the Oscars race. And then this happened

Long story short, James Franco joined the ranks of people accused of sexual misconduct. But Franco isn't talking, except to say that he wants to let everyone else talk for now. Here are his words: 

I completely support people coming out and being able to have a voice because they didn’t have a voice for so long, so I don’t want to shut them down in any way. I think that it’s a good thing and I support it.

And not everyone is convinced by these allegations. Franco's own sister-in-law, actress Alison Brie, echoed Franco's claim that not everything being said about him is totally accurate. 

Whatever the case, in the wake of these allegations, Franco and his movie, The Disaster Artist, were pretty much entirely shut out of the Oscar nominations

The one exception was for Best Adapted Screenplay, which was written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber. And truthfully, this is my pick for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was an excellent film that was definitely helped by a solid screenplay, adapted from the book The Disaster Artist, by Greg Sestero. 

Sestero is the real-life friend of Tommy Wiseau, whose movie The Room is an infamously terrible cult-favorite. The making of The Room is the basis of The Disaster Artist, which was really great -- simultaneously funny and moving. 

Also nominated in the category is Call Me By Your Name by James Ivory; Molly's Game by Aaron Sorkin; Logan by Scott Frank, James Mangold and Michael Green; and Mudbound, by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams. 

They're all notable for different reasons: James Ivory is a gay man, Aaron Sorkin is a highly-acclaimed screenwriter who kills at dialogue, Logan is the first comic book-based movie to be nominated for a screenplay, and Dee Rees is a the first black woman to receive a nomination in a screenplay category in about 45 years. 

It'll be an interesting category to watch for sure. 

The Shape of Water Was This Year's Prettiest Movie & I'm Rooting for It 

I've already mentioned that The Shape of Water is in hot water (no pun intended) for possible plagiarism, but it hasn't seemed to affect the way people are voting this awards season, so the film is still a strong contender in pretty much every category it was nominated in. 

The award I most want it to win, though, is Best Production Design & Set Decoration, done by Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, and Shane Vieau. 

This movie was absolutely stunning. Every single set was flawless and created a perfect mood and atmosphere for the movie. There's nothing super political or significant on the line here -- this movie was just pretty

If You Don't Already Know & Love Sufjan Stevens, Well...You Should Start Now

While we're on the subject of being "just pretty," Sufjan (pronounced SOOF-yawn) Stevens wrote beautiful music for Call Me By Your Name. The rawness of Chalamet's performance as Elio is perfectly matched by the vulnerability that has always characterized Sufjan's music. 

He wrote two songs for the movie, but he's nominated for the song "Mystery of Love." It perfectly encapsulates the feeling and significance of the movie. It's all about how love is messy and complicated and hard, but worth it. 

(And it turns out Sufjan really likes Gucci which is #relatable.) 

And the winner is...

While it seems like there's a lot on the line at this year's Oscars -- and there is -- it's important to remember two things: 

First, even if all the wrong people win this year, the world won't end. While it's true that what happens at the Oscars can set the tone for the rest of the movie industry (and pop culture as a whole), sometimes change happens by correction. When no persons of color were nominated for lead roles in 2015 and 2016, people noticed, people got upset, and changes were made. 

So if no women win the awards they were nominated for, if no persons of color win the awards they were nominated for, you can bet people will notice, people will get upset, and that will lead to more change. 

Second, the Oscars, and movies in general, are supposed to be fun! If this ceremony becomes only political, or becomes only symbolic, we've missed the point, which I am definitely sometimes guilty of doing. 

So this year, watch and laugh at Jimmy Kimmel's jokes, cry during great speeches, applaud the live song performances, and remember that what makes movies so great is how they bring us all together, and remind us that we're more the same than we are different

Will you be watching? 

What are you looking forward to at this year's Academy Awards? Who are you hoping will win? Do you disagree with any of my thoughts? Were any of your favorite movies snubbed? Let me know in the comments! 

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