My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Dunkirk

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 Dunkirk.

5. This Moment

It’s so small, and so perfect. Because, on the broader side of things, these soldiers are stuck on this beach, slowly getting picked off by planes and being slowly surrounded by German forces. There’s almost no way out. They keep loading people onto these ships, which keep getting sunk. Every time a new ship comes, it’s a sliver of hope. But things, overall, are bleak. However, in this one moment, the simple act of two guys running across a wood plank with a stretcher, provides a brief respite for the men. All the men cheering just feels real. You can be in the shittiest situation imaginable, but that moment where you can all rally around like that and have your spirits lifted… that’s life. I loved that he included this.

4. “Home”

This is more about Hans Zimmer’s score than anything. It’s relentless. The score, mixed with the sound design, provides nonstop tension for this film. From the opening moments, you are put into this situation, and it never lets up. There’s no moment of relaxation whatsoever. And then, finally, in this moment, where the calvary arrives, when all the ships are here to get the men out, the score finally switches over to a more classical sound, and you get that first moment to exhale, and finally think, “Okay, things are gonna be all right.”

Here’s the piece of score just so you can hear what I’m talking about. I set it up about thirty seconds before it switches, since that’s all you need to get into the tension that the movie is for almost 90 minutes before it breaks. But when it does, isn’t it such a great moment?

3. Tom Hardy

First off, it’s pretty great that Tom Hardy just exists to wear masks in Christopher Nolan films. That said, I love everything he does here with a mask on for 98% of his performance. He conveys so much, and after a while, you’re completely rooting for him. To me, I was with him more than the other two “main” characters (but that’s also because I thought all the aerial battles were the shit). But it’s this moment in particular that I love. It’s such a quiet moment, and so beautiful. He has the moment when he realizes that he needs to turn around because his fuel is running out. But he knows that if he does that, the men on the beach don’t stand a chance. So he makes the decision to press on, knowing full well that this decision will likely end in his death or capture. But he presses on, culminating in that one moment that I’m sure everyone will cite when talking about his performance — when he’s coasting and out of gas and takes down that last dive bomber that’s about to fire on the men on the Mole. But it’s this moment that I thought was the crux of the performance.

2. Ship Sink

I don’t know how Nolan accomplished half the stuff he did in this movie. The two ship sinking moments are just incredible. This one I chose over the other just because it’s during the day and the shots are clearer. But man… talk about amazing. Look at that. You don’t know which way is up! Plus, you see so many of the shots… a lot of those aren’t in a tank. They’re in the open water. Sure, the close ups almost had to be on a tank, but that doesn’t take away from the effect when you see it in real time. This is one of the best ship sinking sequences I’ve seen. This is some Titanic level stuff.

1. The Cinematography

I was just gonna say “the aerial battles,” because they are stunning and I don’t know how they captured half that stuff. But the whole film is just gorgeous. This is the best cinematography I saw this year, and when you talk about the cinematography of this film in particular, you’re also talking about the directing. This is a film that’s all about hte technical achievement, and Hoyte Van Hoytema, Christopher Nolan, their entire team, and even Hans Zimmer — all of them did an amazing job of giving you the most visceral battle experiences of the year. Not to mention — at least 70% of this movie was shot in IMAX!! Look up the size of an IMAX camera to get an idea of what they had to do in shooting a lot of this stuff in those planes. Incredible.

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