My Favorite Moments in the Best Picture Nominees: Black Panther

Every year, the day before the Oscars, I present my favorite moments from the Best Picture nominees. I do this because things get so subjective and because lines get drawn during the Oscar race. People pick favorites, people start to have negative feelings toward certain films because they’d prefer something else have won or have been nominated. I do this to clear the air of all that. I try to remind us of what this is all about — a celebration of film and of the great films that have come out this year.

I take this day to look at all the nominees as great pieces of cinema. Forget what will win or won’t win — let’s celebrate the films themselves. The point is, when you take away the competition, the awards, the completely arbitrary nature of how no one can truly pick which film is better than another, what we’re left with are great movies. That’s what today is about.

Our first nominee is Black Panther. Wakanda forever.

5. The direction

Ryan Coogler is what makes this more than a standard Marvel movie. He did the same thing with Creed, adding an emotional core to it that makes you care about the characters more than you would if it was just another entry into a franchise. You can feel the hand of a director with a vision guiding this movie. And that’s usually what tends to separate the standard Marvel movies from the above average ones. There are some moments that clearly only happen because it’s Ryan Coogler at the helm. This is the one that stood out to me in particular. Not a lot of people would have chosen this exact camera angle for this exact moment, which is really just a thing of beauty, perfectly capturing everything thematically about this moment in a single image.

4. The contained story

What tends to make me more excited about particular Marvel movies over others is the fact that they don’t feel like giant superhero orgies. When they tell stories specific to the characters and only use the larger universe for pieces here and there, that to me is where what they do really shines. And this movie is, for all intents and purposes, its own universe. I’m trying to think just how much it overlaps. There’s him watching video of his father dying in the bomb attack from Civil War. There’s Martin Freeman showing up again, and Andy Serkis. Otherwise… that’s pretty much it, isn’t it? Maybe a passing reference to Bucky and then he shows up after the movie’s over. But yeah, this is its own story, and you have time to fully immerse yourself in the characters and what’s going on in this story, and you’re not overburdened with a whole bunch of other shit going on and seven heroes popping in and out all the time.

Also, they basically pulled a Lion King, doing a Shakespearean drama set in Africa with kingdoms and stuff. We should acknowledge that too. Just because it’s doing it again doesn’t mean it doesn’t work.

3. The writing

This specifically is about how they built into the script a bunch of little character moments that made everyone feel like real people. They all have their little inside jokes and shorthand, and handshakes and things, and it all just makes it feel real. This moment in particular stood out to me. It’s during a car chase, and a big action beat. And you don’t need to even bother with something like this. Most films wouldn’t. Most films would cut back to the characters saying an action/video game line and cut back to the set piece. Here, it actually feels like they thought through what each character would do or say in a particular situation. Here, Okoye gets out on the hood of the car and sticks her spear through the hood, and Nakia looks over like, “Hey, this is my car!” Like, “What the he… god damn it. There’s already a hole in it.” It’s nice and it makes you feel more tied to the story because it doesn’t just feel like they’re telling you something so much as you’re experiencing something with these people. And the movie is filled with things like that. Specifically, of course…

2. Letitia Wright

We all said that the least interesting part of Black Panther is Black Panther. The supporting cast is, person for person, way more interesting. And none more so than Shuri. Letitia Wright absolutely crushes this role, and immediately becomes everyone’s favorite character within minutes of showing up on screen. From the opening joke with Okoye about him freezing to giving him the finger, to this moment where you think she’s gonna challenge for the throne, only to make a joke — she’s the most fun character in this movie. And a lot of times they try to make someone the funny character and it feels forced (Olaf in Frozen, anyone?). Here, Letitia Wright is so charming and charismatic that it completely works. To the point where I forgave that “What are those” moment she has. Because it’s filled with all sorts of stuff around it that’s great. Like “sneakers” and when she shouts at Martin Freeman, “Don’t scare me like that colonizer.” She’s the best. She single-handedly would have made me like this movie more had I not already liked it as much as I did.

1. The importance of the narrative

There’s no denying that this is the single more important movie of 2018. For a lot of reasons. Culturally, this is huge. This crossed into the culture in a way that was instantaneous and total. Things in this movie are just part of the lexicon now. And it diversified superhero movies in a way that felt necessary, and it showed that really, all people want to see out of their movies is a good movie with good characters. Not to mention, like Wonder Woman last year, it’s important for kids to feel like they can see themselves on screen. And I think what this movie does — showing people of color in strong, intelligent, non-subservient roles (with a token white guy in the middle to show everyone else what they’re usually stuck with in these movies), and have it be completely commonplace — that’s a huge step forward for the culture, and as much as I want to get on people for overhyping this movie, it’s completely worthy of all the praise, every step of the way.

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