Call Me By Your Name
Oh hai, readers. It’s that time again. Tuxedos are being rented, fashion designers are rubbing their hands together with glee and retailers of gold polish in Hollywood are experiencing their annual upturn in sales. In just a few short hours, two dozen individuals or groups of people will be in receipt of a bronze paperweight plated with gold, and will then forever be referred to as “Academy Award Winner” in any future publicity material. I’ve long since given up on sitting up for the Oscars while they’re on – this year I have further mitigation in the fact that I’m at paid work tomorrow, for the first time in nearly a year – but I can never manage the disappointment that comes with films that I’ve formed a personal attachment to coming away empty-handed.
This well-dressed parade of injustice used to cause me to dislike the Academy Awards and their ilk for quite a few years, but I’m rather more at peace with it now, not least because I see the benefits of a box office boost to a film’s time in cinemas. Since my reason for starting this blog was to encourage people to see more films in cinemas, anything that can achieve this end can’t be all bad in my book. But I can’t help but feel that, this year more than many in recent years, the best film is likely to miss out, despite being a favourite of many more lauded and respected critics than yours truly.
But we’ll get to that. First, a gentle reminder of how the biggest film prize of the year is whittled down. Any motion picture, of more than forty minutes in length, shown for seven consecutive days at least three times a day (including one evening showing) in Los Angeles County, and advertised to the public by normal processes, between January 1st and December 31st 2017 can be considered as the best film for 2017. This year that’s given us 341 motion pictures that have to fight it out for the title of Best, and those competing can be a little confusing to British cinema fans. Not just for the fact that films like Lady Bird have only just arrived in cinemas, but for the fact that Paddington 2 won’t be eligible until next year, and David Brent: Life On The Road is one of the eligible films, despite being in UK cinemas eighteen months ago.
Anyway, I’ve been through the list, and I can tell you that of that 341, I’ve managed to see over 140 of them, with a handful more due in British cinemas in the next couple of weeks. One year I’d love to be able to say I’d seen them all, and could pass a truly informed opinion on what the Best Picture is, but given that this year I’ve seen My Little Pony: The Movie (eligible), I’m prepared to take a pass on the other 200 and assume that the cream of the crop can be found in what I’ve managed to view already.
So, firstly here is the breakdown of the films that would have been on my longlist had I been putting together a Best Picture rundown:
Baby Driver; Call Me By Your Name; Coco; Dunkirk; Foxtrot; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Killing Of A Sacred Deer; The Shape Of Water
Blade Runner 2049; Brawl In Cell Block 99; Chasing Coral; Dawson City: Frozen Time; A Fantastic Woman; Lady Macbeth; Loveless; Okja; Personal Shopper; Raw; Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Thelma; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Cast me away on a desert island with that lot and I’d be a happy man for quite a while. But we’re in the business of finding the top 1, not the top 22, so you need to know what would have made my list.
So if I’d had to make a nomination list of nine to match the Academy’s, then my 10/10 choices would have filled it out quite nicely. The personal disappointment starts here, in that the Academy and I could only agree on five out of the nine: of those that didn’t make it in, I can only presume that Coco was too animated, Foxtrot too obscure (Israel’s submission for Best Foreign Language got only to the top nine of that category, not to the final five), The Killing Of A Sacred Deer too wilfully odd and Baby Driver too general entertainment (and also too lacking in a major supporting role for Christopher Plummer, if you get my drift).
But five out of nine is not bad, and for me represents the strongest year since the 2010 awards, the last time I would have given five of the nominees a 10/10 rating. Here though, for the avoidance of any doubt, is my official ranking for this year’s awards in reverse order of appreciation.
The Least Best Picture is Darkest Hour
It might be about to give Gary Oldman a first Best Actor award – which, as so often, is richly deserved but probably not for this role – but this generic biopic is all bluster and little subtlety, and this comes from someone who’s a founder member of the Joe Wright Appreciation Society, for his work on the likes of Hanna and Anna Karenina which I am willing to bet money I liked more than you did. This, though, feels the most awards-baiting entry of the nine nominees available.
Which Is Not As Good As The Post
It’s good, solid, reliable Spielberg delivering yet another good, solid, reliable Oscar contender, but one that falls slightly short in the drama stakes compared to its journalistic relatives such as All The President’s Men and Spotlight. Nice to see Thanx and Meep (as I would hope she would sign herself on Twitter) sharing a screen though.
Which Is Not As Good As Get Out
Controversial opinion of the year: I think Get Out is a great film, I think it’s the most important film of the year in many ways, I would instantly list Jordan Peele as someone whose next film I would watch with no prior knowledge of content or talent involved – but, despite a satisfying ending that deviates from expectation, I did find that the film lost its way in the last half hour or so, and there’s just occasionally a lack of subtlety that I think will come in Peele’s next films.
Which Is Not As Good As Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Now that the go-to way to hammer home your message appears to have become renting three billboards, decking them out with similar posters, and driving them to the location of a tragedy, it’s no wonder that Three Billboards is at the top of public consciousness right now. Given that Martin McDonagh is still using Peter Dinklage to make short people jokes, nearly a decade after In Bruges, I’m still now quite sure how this walked off so easily with the Golden Globe and the BAFTA. I don’t think we need to have our film characters held to the same moral standard as the people who act in them or who hold political office, but I can also understand why that moral ambivalence has made a few people uncomfortable.
Which Is Not As Good As The Shape Of Water
It might just be Pan’s Labyrinth 2: Electric Merman Boogaloo, but that doesn’t stop The Shape Of Water being an utter delight. Sally Hawkins should immediately be given a damehood, the freedom of anywhere she likes and free ice cream for a year for her magnificent performance, and the cast around her are equally impressive. It’s just the occasional feeling that more could have been done with Michael Shannon’s grotesque baddie that keeps this further from my top spot.
Which Is Not As Good As Dunkirk
If I’m a Joe Wright fan, then I’m practically at the level of stalker for Christopher Nolan. Putting aside the disappointment of Interstellar, he eschews movie stars and manages an intimate focus on three different aspects of war. He’s also convincingly selling us a war film about a retreat and a relative defeat, but finding the spirit without being jingoistic. I do wish I hadn’t enjoyed watching the dogfight sequence in 4DX quite so much, though. (Wheeeee!)
Which Is Not As Good As Lady Bird
I believe that Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig’s partner, offered to direct this when Gerwig was developing it, but Gerwig decided to make it herself. Based on this, she should offer to direct his next ten films, as she’s much, MUCH better at it. Its greatest trick is the quick cut montages which offer all of the detail and emotion of major events in short bursts, but I wouldn’t want to sell short the performances or the magnificent script, where not a single word feels superfluous.
Which Is Not As Good As Phantom Thread
I keep a spreadsheet which records every film I’ve seen in the past ten years, and that also enables me to track the record of any director over that period. Paul Thomas Anderson has now become the first director in that decade to deliver four bona fide masterpieces (There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice being the preceding three). This might just be the best of all of them, and it’s as immaculately constructed and utterly beguiling as any of its lead character’s creations. Vicky Krieps was properly robbed of a Best Actress nomination, though – hurry up and retire, will you Meryl?
This, of course, means that…
The Best Picture Of 2017 is Call Me By Your Name
I don’t think this is going to win Best Picture. If I get up for work in eight hours to discover it has, it will be a moment as beautiful as a Michael Stuhlbarg monologue at the end of a gorgeous Italian summer. I’ve seen this twice in a cinema and found myself even more mesmerised by the film’s beauty the second time, and I do believe that Luca Guadagnino’s work as director is one of the film’s most underappreciated assets, Best Director nomination notwithstanding. (The blocking and placement in the fountain scene alone gives me goosebumps.) I just hope talk of a sequel is unfounded, some perfect moments can’t and shouldn’t be replicated.
So that’s it, my list of the nine nominees in order for another year. To finish, please find my increasingly squashed scorecard of the decade so far, since the nominations expanded, to see how this year’s ratings compare to years past. And if you’re watching the awards, just remember that it’s only an awards show. Have fun.
The Pitch: “One does a whole painting for one peach and people think just the opposite – that particular peach is but a detail.” — Pablo Picasso
The Review: I’ve been writing this blog for seven years now. I say writing, I used to churn out a thousand words of incisive wit every other day and now I spend most of my time talking about films on radio rather than writing on them here. Foolishly, because I’m clearly so good at committing to writing, I’d love to start a food blog at some point, having developed a love of cooking that finally matches my love of eating over the past twenty years. When I went to university twenty-five years ago my entire repertoire consisted of cottage pie with tinned mince, roast potatoes and a passable apple crumble. Now my love of cookery is almost as well travelled as my love of cinema: these days I’ll attempt food from almost as many cultures as those from which I sample films.
One particular fondness I’ve developed is for Italian cuisine. Forget sloppy spag bols with sauce out of a jar or last night’s reheated pizza, the best Italian food uses a handful of ingredients but makes sure they are of the highest quality. Clearly you can guess where I’m going with this food-based metaphor, but it’s a perfect fit for Luca Guadagnino’s latest film, an adaptation of Andre Aciman’s novel. Originally due to be co-directed by James Ivory, famous for his British period dramas produced by Ismail Merchant, Ivory instead sold the script to Guadagnino to keep the financiers happy, and it’s allowed CALL ME BY YOUR NAME to retain a simple, pure focus.
The film is built around two central performances, both of which are revelatory in their own ways. Timothée Chalamet has so far had a career of small parts, including MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN and INTERSTELLAR, while Armie Hammer is best known for his literally two-faced role in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and for being the unfortunate sidekick in the lead role in the underrated THE LONE RANGER. Here, Chalamet is teenager Elio, spending the summer with his family at their Lombardy villa but displaced from his bedroom by Hammer’s visiting student Oliver. Elio is immediately in awe of the standoffish Oliver, but doesn’t know how to process his initial feelings and finds different outlets for his frustrations – including a stunted flirtation with local girl Marzia (Esther Garrel) – before his and Oliver’s facades gradually lower.
It’s difficult to know which of the two performances is better, but that’s a nice dilemma to have for any film. Chalamet is wiry and slippery, a buzz of teenage energy driven by a keen mind but with his musical talents the only outlet for his passion until Oliver’s arrival. Oliver, direct and abrupt almost to the point of insolence in Elio’s eyes, still has a magnetism that won’t let Elio’s gaze alone. It’s the beauty of the way that their relationship is developed, the occasional brush of human contact here, a knowing gaze there, every moment believable and compelling. The two unite over their common interests and their heritage, closeted Jews in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and first their minds and then their bodies are drawn together. Oliver’s cautiousness is understandable; Elio is only seventeen, and while mature in many ways childish in others, but as his adolescence flowers it’s nurtured comfortingly by Oliver’s gradually revealed warmth.
The warmth isn’t just in the performances of the two leads, but in everything that Guadagnino’s brought together. While his previous films such as I AM LOVE and A BIGGER SPLASH have certainly had moments of warmth and tenderness, they’ve often been mixed slightly more with brusqueness and cynicism. Here, Ivory’s script is a masterclass in human emotion, slowly peeling away the layers of the two leads and drawing you into their intimacy. It’s backed up by Guadagnino’s direction, but also by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography, capturing the lushness of the Italian countryside and giving the film the feel of a faded memory of summers past, and by songs from Sufjan Stevens on the soundtrack. Even the Eighties setting of the film is layered on gracefully, with a Talking Heads T-shirt and a Walkman feeling redolent of the time but unobtrusive in the northern Italian landscape.
In a way, the film saves one of its greatest assets for last. Chekov’s Gun is a dramatic principle that you shouldn’t put a gun on the wall if you’re not going to fire it later, and it’s the parents (Amira Cassar and Michael Stuhlbarg) who observe for the majority of the film from the sidelines, occasionally giving dramatic impetus but mainly making us envious of summers in the countryside. But a climactic scene between Stuhlbarg and Chalamet raises the emotional intensity of the film to almost achingly beautiful levels, possibly giving us the first instance of Chekhov’s Stuhlbarg committed to film and hopefully not the last when he’s as good as he is here.
Even from our more enlightened 21st century position it feels strange that so few films still deal in non-heterosexual relationships without characters or the film ever sitting in judgement. For that alone CALL ME BY YOUR NAME should be applauded, but for the fact that it presents itself as one of the most realistic, tender and honest films about relationships and maturity ever made it should be cherished.
Why see it at the cinema: The best way to immerse yourself in the experience and to fully embrace the pleasures of Guadagnino’s stunning film are to sit in the largest, darkest room you can find, ideally one where the film is being projected onto the walls.
What about the rating: Rated 15 for strong sex, although there’s been much stronger on screen. Blue Is The Warmest Colour or 9 Songs this is not.
My cinema experience: The one particularly odd artistic choice made by Guadagnino was the sound of heavy drilling which he chose to add as a constant to the soundtrack. How did anyone ever relax in 1980’s Italy with all of that drilling going on? Took me a good ten minutes to realise that the drab, depressing surroundings of the Odeon Leicester Square had been supplemented by construction work elsewhere in Leicester Square. It didn’t seem to affect the general enjoyment of the assembled press and industry throng at the BFI press screening, as the film got a solid ovation at the end.
The Score: 10/10