My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Darkest Hour
This has become an annual tradition the day before the Oscars. In order move away all the subjectivity and negativity that happens when figuring out what should win and what’s going to win, I use the day before the ceremony to get away from all of that stuff and celebrate the films that are nominated for Best Picture.
We take this day to look at them as masterworks of cinema and not as films competing for a trophy. All of that other stuff — the analysis, the opinions — that’s all done with. Today, we take a minute, we stop, and we appreciate the films themselves. I count down my five favorite moments (or elements) of each of them.
When you take away all the awards, all the competition, and all the arbitrary decisions about what film is better than the others, what we’re left with is great cinema. That’s what we’re celebrating.
Our next nominee is Darkest Hour.
5. The train scene
I know a lot of people hate this scene. I know it couldn’t possibly have happened and that it’s merely a writer’s flourish. But that’s why I like it. I get it. I’d want to do the same thing. The most joy a writer can get, especially with something like this, is putting in that scene that, while probably untrue, could have happened. And you get to imagine how it would have played out, and you get to have fun with it. I love the scene.
4. The cinematography
This movie is gorgeous. Bruno Delbonnel is one of the best cinematographers working. His first big effort was Amélie, and then he did A Very Long Engagement, Across the Universe, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (quite possibly the best looking of all the Potter films), and Inside Llewyn Davis. He only seems to do one movie a year, but when he does, it’s stunning. He and Joe Wright were a match made in heaven. Wright is one of the more impressive visual directors working and Delbonnel is so great with lighting and composition. The way he shoots everyone in this movie (not just Churchill) is so beautiful. I could pick out about forty shots just like this one that are absolutely stunning. I feel like the look of the film is one of the more overlooked aspects of it.
3. The King
Ben Mendelsohn had a tall order. He had to play the role that Colin Firth won an Oscar for not too long ago. And he had enough screen time to make it more than just a negligible thing. And he really surprised me. It’s quite good work. He doesn’t make the speech impediment as pronounced as Firth did, and he does a lot of subtle things with the performance. I often like to find overlooked or thankless roles that impressed me in films, and this is one of the biggest ones of the year, in my mind. He had to act opposite Gary Oldman as Churchill. That is not easy. And he does it with grace and dignity and actually makes you not think about the performance that you’d so obviously want to compare his to.
2. The call with FDR
I love this scene. It’s so great. Aside from the way it’s shot, I just love the setting — that little isolated booth where he can make an international call. Plus, it shows the actual isolation of the country, as Churchill is hoping to get U.S. help, only to realize he’s completely on his own. And then, he picks up his boots and comes up with a plan. I love that they don’t linger on this moment any longer than they have to. They let it happen, and then Churchill simply moves on and finds a way to get his boys him (right after this scene, he gets the idea for the civilian boats to go evacuate Dunkirk). I just really liked this moment a lot.
1. Gary fucking Oldman
What else could it be? The minute we heard Gary Oldman as Churchill, we were in. And then once we saw the photo, we knew it would be something special. But man, did he deliver the goods. He usually delivers the goods, but he takes his game to another level here. He really transforms himself in to Churchill with this one. And it shows you just how great of an actor he is. It used to be that he was this great, underappreciated character actor, then it became “great actor,” though we’d only ever see him in franchises or these throwaway horror movies and thrillers. So finally, between Tinker Tailor and this, he gets the kind of role that shows you how great he is. And I’m glad he’s about to get his due for it.
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