'The Breadwinner': Destined to be overshadowed in the animated feature category that's traditionally dominated by Disney/Pixar, this moving film now streaming on Netflix deserves greater notice regardless of Sunday's outcome. At times recalling the lush and affecting 2010 Oscar nominee "The Secret of Kells" (produced by the same Irish studio), "The Breadwinner" follows 11-year-old Parvana as she is forced to disguise her gender to provide for her family on the streets of Taliban-ruled Kabul, Afghanistan. With that kind of setting, the film needs to have as a steady hand with horror as humanity, and while it faithfully — even necessarily — depicts the cruel realities of its world, it isn't overwhelmed by it either, thanks to a beautifully rendered love of storytelling that spans any imagined culture divides.
Jonny Greenwood's 'Phantom Thread' score: The Radiohead guitarist, whose work has also been heard on Paul Thomas Anderson's films "There Will Be Blood," "Inherent Vice" and "The Master," is a welcome new face on the Oscar ballot amid the usual suspects like Hans Zimmer and John Williams. Even if all you know about "Phantom Thread" is that it involves a prickly Daniel Day-Lewis and some aggravatingly buttered toast, Greenwood's score stands on its own with its sumptuous mix of piano and strings that on the one hand draws a dotted line from the vivid orchestrations on "A Moon Shaped Pool" from Greenwood's day job but on the other sounds like a swooning yet unexpectedly rich homage to the classical-informed movie scores it aims to evoke.
The academy's weakness for itself: Guillermo del Toro's ability to wring an engaging romance and nearly $100 million at the box office from what superficially sounds like a ridiculous fish-out-of-water love story testifies to his skills as a filmmaker and set "The Shape of Water" along its way as an Oscar favorite. But what really gives the film the inside track is swooning moments that pay homage to the magic of classic movies, which for all its earnestly delivered intent occasionally has the distracting effect of watching a mirror dance with itself. While "La La Land" proved last year that fealty to the memory of old Hollywood maneuvers doesn't guarantee overwhelming awards night success, "The Shape of Water's" Oscar chances are surely given a bit of a boost by making space for more than one celebration of self-love.
The conventional wisdom of 'The Post': If you could build an Oscars fantasy team, this movie's lineup would probably be disallowed for unfairness: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg in a timely look back at one of the defining eras in journalism for a film released at a time when newspapers have on multiple occasions redefined their worth as investigative entities. And yet, the movie's greatest cultural impact has been adding a bit of fuel to the friendly rivalry between the Washington Post and the New York Times, which has been fun to watch but probably not the film's ultimate goal. Maybe the new blood among academy voters has the Oscars more eager to recognize new faces, or perhaps 2017 was just too unpredictable and harrowing to be satisfyingly reflected in another look at the past.
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