My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Lady Bird

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 Lady Bird.

5. The car shot

I figured I’d get it out of the way first. It’s astounding, but it’s not the absolute best thing about this movie. Really, what this is, is a moment where not only can you see Greta Gerwig’s directing talent shine, and Laurie Metcalf’s incredible acting ability shine, but it’s a moment where you see a true character’s self come through. She puts up this facade (which is partially the reality, of course), but then, after a moment, you see — she does love her daughter, and she is having that moment parents have when sending their children off to school. It’s beautiful.

4. This moment

This moment took me completely by surprise. So many of the scenes in this film are set up to resemble other scenes (of either movies or childhood) that we recognize so well, but they all go a different way (or the film cuts away from them before they descend into the moments we can recite by rote). I did not expect him to break down the way he does, when he apologizes and asks her not to tell anyone that he’s gay. It suddenly takes a very real turn, and really knocks you cold. One minute she’s mad at him and then realizes, “Oh, this is so much bigger than what’s going on with me,” and then becomes a good friend in that moment. Probably the only person in his life he can turn to for something like this, even. I really, really loved how this happened.

3. Simple character complexity

I love how all the supporting characters have these tiny moments of real complexity that just go by and help them become three-dimensional without wasting a moment of screen time. Julie has an entire subplot with her teacher and having a crush that Lady Bird isn’t even aware of. And it’s so subtle and works so well that it’s perfect, and really helps give her more dimensions than three full scenes could have. Or the moment when Lady Bird comes over during prom and she’s crying and says, “Some people aren’t built happy.” It’s brilliant. And on the other hand — which is why I chose this shot — how about the priest? He has that moment in class when they do the crying exercise and out of nowhere he’s just crying. And you’re laughing because it’s funny and you think he got too into it. And then there’s this laugh line of, “They didn’t understand it.” But then there’s that scene later where you realize he’s struggling with severe depression. And it’s so subtle and works so well. You feel like you know this guy based on like four short scenes. (Plus, that depression scene only serves to help the mother character on top of that. It’s just well done all around.) Oh, and speaking of character complexity…

2. Tracy Letts

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the character of the dad. It’s so understated and so brilliant on so many levels. This is that thankless performance that you overlook because the movie is about the mother and the daughter. But here’s a guy, struggling with depression, who just lost his job and is unable to provide for his family, isn’t the primary breadwinner in his house, and is now losing out to a job by his son. I just love everything he did with this character and how they portrayed him. The moment where he sees his son going in for the same job, fixes up his tie and says, “Go get ’em.” It’s honestly the most touching moment in the film for me. It’s so wonderful. Tracy Letts has been, in my mind, cinema’s secret weapon for the past three or four years, and I’m really happy that he’s getting noticed for stuff like this, because he’s truly an incredible actor.

1. How universal the story is

This feels like all of our childhoods. In some way, some shape, some form, it feels like it. Even if you’re a Miguel or Shelly. All of us went through some form of something in this movie at some point. That’s the beauty of very specific stories. Those are the ones that end up feeling the most universal. Everything about this movie made me feel happy. It felt real. And it had all the hallmarks of real life. There’s something truly special about this movie and what it accomplishes, and it’s truly one of the finest achievements of 2017.

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