My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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 final nominee is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

5. “Penelope said begets?”

I’m basically using this first spot as a “Martin McDonagh” slot. To me, he’s one of the five best screenwriters working today. Everything he writes is just incredible. I knew I was gonna love this movie, but I really wasn’t prepared for what I got. The way he mixes comedy and tragedy, interweaving them so well, is just astounding to me. Plus, he also has room for his flourishes — like the scene where she berates the priest, or this dinner scene, which is full of hilarious throwaway lines like “I have to go use the little boy’s room” or the “begets” line. His dialogue is just so rich and so funny, and here he manages to also tell an engaging story about loss and pain in between it. Hell, just before the “begets” line, we found out that it was Charlie who set the billboards on fire, not Dixon, meaning that Mildred burned down the police station and put Dixon in the hospital in error. This entire film is just so impeccably written that it can balance all that without missing a beat.

4. Mildred’s vulnerability

Frances McDormand is incredible. There’s a balancing act with this character, because she decides she’s gonna go to war, and then does. Which means she has to hold her ground no matter what. But, if you don’t show the human side of her, she runs the risk of becoming completely unlikable. Which is why the little moments she imbues into the performance, like the one pictured above, where you can see that she doesn’t really wanna be doing this, and is only doing it because she wants to find her daughter’s killer, work so well. I love everything she did with this movie, and it’s these little moments that really add to the authenticity of the character for me.

3. Spitting blood

This scene turns on a dime. And I was not expecting it. I actually gasped when I saw this. Because the scene turns into a witty repartee between Willoughby and Mildred, and then out of nowhere shit gets real. You’re confronted with the reality of death and actual loss, which is kinda the point in the first place. But the way the scene immediately turns in this moment — Willoughby is both horrified (for spitting blood on her and the fact that he just spit up blood) and shocked, and Mildred immediately starts nurturing him like a mother. The way she says “I know, baby,” is one of the greatest moments in the film for me. That was apparently an ad lib, but the way she says it completely sells the scene and makes it feel real. It’s clear that these two don’t really dislike one another, and there are more important things going on than some shit about billboards. I love this moment.

2. Sam Rockwell

It’s the entire character for me, but most specifically, it’s this moment. The character at first is one of those Sam Rockwell/Martin McDonagh characters. He’s an idiot who is funny to watch but isn’t really all that bright. Then he straight up turns into a villain of sorts. And then, to have him completely turn around in this scene was just astounding to me. Somehow, even seeing the scene play out in front of me, I wasn’t prepared for it. So to see that he did everything he did at the bar to get the dude’s DNA in the hopes it might be the right guy, amazed me. It brought the character beyond full circle and into one of the most interesting characters I’ve seen on screen all year. I’m not gonna argue that he redeems himself in any particular way, but I just loved the different turns the character took, even at the end when you thought he was gonna blow his brains out. I really, really liked this character a lot, and the fact that Sam Rockwell not only plays him to a tee and is gonna win an Oscar for it makes me very happy.

1. This cut

The other moment that made me audibly gasp in the theater. I was not expecting this. The film cuts to a flashback of Angela, alive — her only scene in the film — to show what home life was like at the time. She’s arguing about going out, Robbie’s calling his mother a cunt — it’s funny. And you see the dysfunction that also kinda holds them together, and all that stuff. And then you realize that this is the night where she got murdered. She wants to take the car, and Mildred won’t let her and tells her to walk. And she goes, “I hope I get raped on the way!” And Mildred sarcastically goes, “I hope you get raped too!” And we cut to this shot, knowing full well what her fate actually was that night. It really hit me square in the gut, and is the most effective cut I saw all year at the movies. Just thinking about it still gets me.

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