Dinner with Oscar: Phantom Thread

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Each year, I try to watch every movie nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award before the Oscars ceremony. As I do this, I will write a brief review of each movie, along with a suggestion of what to eat and/or drink to pair with the movie.

I was excited for Phantom Thread because I love movies that people describe as lush. Period dramas with extravagant costumes and set designs are my favorites, and this is a period drama about costumes and clothes.

People tend to get excited about Paul Thomas Anderson films but I haven’t seen anything from him than Fiona Apple music videos and There Will Be Blood. I’ve been told this is a deficiency I should correct. And after seeing Phantom Thread, I’m inclined to. This movie deftly redirects expectations and plays fast and loose with traditional antagonist/protagonist roles. It’s also a beautiful, highly textured film, filled with shots of beautiful fabrics, clothes, people, and food. 

No review of mine would be complete without a complaint, though. The picture is about a highly creative and talented man, Reynolds Woodcock [Daniel Day-Lewis] who behaves like a tyrant to the people in his life. Yawn. It’s also about an older man who has a young female muse du jour who he keeps and discards at his pleasure. Double fucking yawn. 

However, just because a movie has tropes doesn’t always mean it’s bad, and in this case the power dynamic shifts in unexpected and darkly delightful ways. 

In addition to Best Picture, Daniel Day-Lewis is nominated for Lead Actor, Lesley Manville [who plays Day-Lewis’s sister] is nominated for Supporting Actress, Paul Thomas Anderson got a Best Director nomination. It’s also nominated for Score and Costume Design.

I think it’s among the best of the films nominated, but it’s going up against Three Billboards which won the Golden Globe and The Post. Those two seem to be the films to beat and I don’t think Phantom Thread will do it. 

This movie has garnered extra attention because Daniel Day-Lewis has said this is his last film, and so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Academy awarded him based on that. But he’s also won three Oscars already and I think the statue is going to Gary Oldman this year. 

I don’t think Anderson will win for director this year, but I’d like to see it win for Costume Design. The costumes really are gorgeous.

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What to make: The obvious choice here is a mushroom omelette, but that’s impractical for party purposes. Stuffed mushrooms would be a much more party-ready dish while still winking at a pivotal scene in the movie.

Another choice is asparagus, alluding to the scene in which Woodcock berates Alma for preparing it incorrectly. Make sure to prepare it with oil, so as not to upset any temperamental savants who might be in attendance.

Dinner with Oscar: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Each year, I try to watch every movie nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award before the Oscars ceremony. As I do this, I will write a brief review of each movie, along with a suggestion of what to eat and/or drink to pair with the movie.

Like Get Out, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is relevant to issues that are a part of the larger conversation today. The film deals with sexual assault and, to a less successful degree, racism.

Mildred [Frances McDormand] has put up the titular billboards because her teenage daughter was sexually assaulted and murdered and she feels the police department has not done enough to apprehend the assailant(s). Her ire is aimed especially sharply at Chief Willoughby [Woody Harrelson] and things get complicated when it becomes known that he has advanced cancer and not much time left.

By and large the town is not on Mildred’s side and she doesn’t help matters by being acerbic and destructive. She continues on with her crusade with full knowledge of Willoughby’s prognosis. 

Sam Rockwell plays Dixon, an officer on the force with a reputation for being violent, racist, and usually both at the same time. This is where the film has attracted some controversy. Critics complain that Dixon is redeemed at the end, and the black characters are largely flat plot-devices: fodder for the more complex white man who in theory sees the error of his ways but does no real work to change his behavior. 

I see the criticism, and the way the film handles race is a Hollywood weakness since time immemorial. It wants to pat itself on the back for addressing the issue of racism, but the way it places white characters at the center of the narrative to the exclusion of black characters defeats its purpose. 

However, I do think it is a good film and it has a fair chance at winning the Best Picture award as it did at the Golden Globes. It is a complex, “messy” film [which was director Martin McDonagh's defense when faced with the criticism discussed above] and the performances are powerful. The thread running through the narrative is that a young girl was violently sexually assaulted and the one main female character feels that the men in power are not taking it seriously. I doubt the story realized how on the nose it would be while in production but it certainly turned out to be, and in a good way.

Three Billboards was nominated for a total of seven awards: Best Picture, Lead Actress for Frances McDormand, Supporting Actor for both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, and Original Score. I admit that I haven’t yet seen any of the other nominees for Lead Actress but I’m pretty much always rooting for McDormand. Sam Rockwell won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting, but my money is on Harrelson -- for no observable reason, I just like Harrelson better. But as far as direction and screenplay go, I think Get Out has it beat.

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What to make: In honor of Frances burning down the police station with a Molotov Cocktail, a Molotov Cocktail cocktail seems a good direction for those of us who don’t have to work early the next day. There are a few recipes on the Internet, but the most common one calls for vodka with Bacardi 151 floated on top, then lit, then shot. However, I heard that Bacardi 151 has been discontinued, so you can do this if you still have some in your liquor cabinet, or with some other high-proof liquor. 

Or, if you want to be really irreverent and morbid you can make burnt ends, which originate from Kansas City BBQ and also refers to, well -- there’s a lot of fire in this movie. 

Or you can simply make three sandwiches and call them sandwich billboards. 

Dinner with Oscar: Get Out

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At the time of this writing, I have seen four of the nine films nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and I’m ready to say with confidence that Get Out is the most clever of the bunch.

Get Out is a modernized, genre-bending Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner written and directed by Jordan Peele. Chris [Daniel Kaluuya] is nervous about visiting his white girlfriend’s family, especially when Rose [Allison Williams] tells him that she has not told her family that he is black. She assures him that he has nothing to worry about, but, of course, it’s not true. Just not in the way a viewer might initially think.

Peele cleverly uses the horror genre to demonstrate what it’s like to be a black American in a so-called “post-racial” country, where it is no longer socially acceptable to be racist and where white Americans use their support for Obama as a shield against accusations of racism. That it’s not socially acceptable does not mean that racism has disappeared, it just means it has gone underground and is exhibited in a way that is often more sinister and insidious. What looks like a progressive attitude is actually fetishization and, in this case, is taken to its horrifying conclusion. 

I don’t want to spoil the end for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. When the movie was released last year, I saw the movie spoiled for someone and it wasn’t pretty. So I won’t do it. But if you’re looking for a recommendation then my recommendation is to see it.

Get Out is nominated for three more awards in addition to Best Picture: Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Peele, and best Lead Actor for Daniel Kaluuya. I highly doubt that Get Out will win the Best Picture statue. In fact, it probably won’t win anything, just like it didn’t win anything at the Golden Globes but I would love to see Peele get the prize for either writing or directing. The story is intricate without seeming so, and the tension is masterfully built to the film’s climax.

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What to make: The scene in which Rose is eating Froot Loops and drinking milk from a straw is representative of the film in that it’s comedy mingled with horror. You could make Rice Krispies Treats but replacing the Rice Krispies with Froot Loops.

Or, if you want to be clever and spoiler-y, go with chocolate cake filled with white cream. Or, fuck it, how about Oreos?

Dinner with Oscar: Dunkirk

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The Oscars: The Super Bowl for cinephiles. I went to a Super Bowl party and paid far more attention to the food and drink than I did to the game. But for the Oscars party I’m attending I will be zoning out all conversation around me and focusing on the speeches, the jokes, the clothes and, of course, the awards.

My husband and I do our best to watch every movie nominated for the Best Picture award before the ceremony. We also attend a party for which attendants bring a dish that is somehow connected to the movie they were randomly assigned. 

At this point, I have seen three of the nominated pictures, so I have five to go. I will be writing short reviews of each film and, as a bonus, suggesting a dish or two to accompany the film. 

First up: Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is a well-respected director who, before this year, had never been nominated for a Best Director Oscar. He has two Best Original Screenplay nominations for Memento [2000] and Inception [2010] and Inception also garnered a Best Picture nomination but was beat out by The King’s Speech.

Nolan does not direct the kind of movies that get nominated for Academy Awards, but he also directs exactly the kind of movies that get nominated for Academy Awards. His filmography is mostly made up of superhero movies and action movies and, in that way, he’s been a victim of the genre snobbery of the academy. But his movies are also cerebral and creative -- exactly the kind of thing the Academy loves to award. 

So, when he released war drama Dunkirk, whispers of an Oscars nomination started right away. Like the Academy was just waiting for him to release the right kind of movie. It’s silly, but Dunkirk is absolutely deserving of the nomination. 

It is a film about the evacuation of the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, France during World War II, a topic which is oddly popular this year. Fellow Best Picture nominee and Gary Oldman vehicle, The Darkest Hour is about the same situation from Winston Churchill’s perspective. Dunkirk views the operation from three perspectives: air, land, and sea. 

I saw it in theatres shortly after it was released and thoroughly enjoyed it. My only gripe was that the dialogue was difficult to understand because the background noise of general mayhem was so loud. But that may very well have been intentional: it seems like a Nolan kind of thing to do to imitate via sound the chaos and confusion of a terrifying military evacuation.  

Nolan likes to reuse actors. Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, some of his regular players are here with the addition of Mark Rylance in a forceful portrayal of a citizen sailor trying to save as many soldiers as possible. I’m surprised Rylance didn’t garner a best supporting actor nomination.

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Dunkirk is nominated for a total of 8 awards: Picture, Director, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, and Original Score. If I had to guess, while I think Dunkirk is a very good film, I think it will win only one or both of the sound awards. Of course, I have at this point seen only two of the other nominees so it’s hard for me to say anything with too much confidence at this point. 

Now for the main course, what to make as you celebrate Dunkirk: Brie and jam hand pies, because brie is French, hand pies are British, and jam is both. You can use frozen puff pastry to make this extra easy (and decadent). 

Alternatively, if you want to be a bit cheeky, you can make bangers surrounded by German potato salad.