Dinner with Oscar: Lady Bird

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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’m not sure what took me so long to watch Lady Bird. I wanted to -- it got great reviews from all the feminists I trust. I loved Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn. It has a female director. I just never got around to it and by the time I started in earnest on these Oscar nominations, it was no longer in theaters.

But I did manage to watch it and it was the last of the Best Picture nominations I saw. In my ideal world, the two top contenders for the Best Picture award would be the two most compelling and interesting movies of the year: Get Out and Lady Bird. But I don’t need to read Oscars buzz to know that this is not my ideal world.

I generally avoid films about teenage drama because I am a high school teacher and that’s literally part of my job. Where others see a charming, nostalgic walk down memory lane, I usually see the thing that gets in the way of my lesson plans with some regularity. 

But Lady Bird gets it right in a way that most other films don’t. A lot of films focused on teenagers have a subtle air of condescension that the filmmakers may be unaware of in the way that people are unaware of their condescension when they talk to or about teenagers. That’s another reason I avoid movies with teenagers -- the judgy-ness annoys me. There’s nothing like that here. Just complete and total empathy.

And that’s because the characters are authentic. That’s where the whole strength of the story comes from. 

My favorite aspect of the story was the raw and heartbreaking portrayal of a complicated parent/child relationship. Both Lady Bird [Saoirse Ronan] and her mother [Laurie Metcalf] are deeply flawed people who love each other, and who have higher standards for each other than they have for themselves. While they are flawed, they are also both lovable and occasionally affectionate, which is what makes the relationship complicated. The viewer immediately understands why they love each other, and why they sometimes hate each other.

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Lady Bird also manages to juggle multiple stories with just the right amount of overwhelming. Being a teenager is overwhelming, so it’s appropriate that it sometimes feel like too much.

In addition to Best Picture, Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf gained well-deserved nominations for Lead Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively. Greta Gerwig is nominated for Director, but she won’t win. I will be very happy if she does, but she won’t. It was also nominated for Original Screenplay but as I’ve said for this entire series, I think Get Out should win that based on creativity alone. If I’m judging screenplays based solely on authenticity, I’d give it to Lady Bird.

What to make: Poultry is the obvious thing here. There’s a Thanksgiving scene so a roasted turkey would work and would feed a crowd! I recommend butterflying it for faster and more even cooking, but if the idea of a turkey in March is too much for you, you can also butterfly and roast a chicken. 

Or, while I haven’t really gone the pun route with my recommendations, you could do Lady [Bird] Fingers for dessert.

Dinner with Oscar: The Post

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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’m calling it now: The Post will win the Best Picture statue at the 2018 Academy Awards.

It’s not my favorite of the 8 films nominated; I've liked Get Out and Phantom Thread the best of the bunch. And I know Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri won the Golden Globe for best picture even though The Post was nominated as well. But I have a strong feeling that the Academy will favor The Post.

It’s the kind of movie the Academy loves. While the Golden Globe sometimes goes to quirkier, funnier, or more action-y movies, the Oscar award tends to favor more serious films with more serious topics. For example, The Revenant won the Golden Globe, but Spotlight won the Oscar; Avatar won the Golden Globe while The King’s Speech won the Oscar. It's not always true but it is true that the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes don’t often overlap with Best Picture (they have only agreed on 3 movies in the past 10 years, and that’s if you count Slumdog Millionaire which one both but in two different years, since the Globes are months before the Oscars). 

There’s the fact of who is voting: individuals working in the production side of the film industry make up The Academy. The Post has the holy trinity never before come together for a picture: Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks. Obviously, those three carry a lot of clout with that crowd.

It’s also just as political as the Academy Awards likes to get -- it’s sort of peripherally political. It’s a story about the press being under attack at a different time in American history that is a fairly obvious comment on our current political/media climate. In addition to that, there’s a focus on women in power in workplaces where they are sometimes disrespected and not taken as seriously as they should be. 

Surprisingly, the only other award nomination The Post garnered was Lead Actress for Meryl Streep. That’s the only point that gives me pause about it winning Best Picture. But I’m standing by it.

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What to make: There are a couple of mentions of food and drink in the movie. The scene in which reporters are frantically poring over the Pentagon Papers, and Hanks’s wife brings in sandwiches. So you could do roast beef with horseradish sandwiches, and turkey with mustard. Easy and party ready! I suggest pairing them with vodka lemonades—or just lemonades, for the kids—as a nod to the little girl with the lemonade stand and the amazing Carrie Coon asking if there is vodka in them.

Or, if you want to be really punny, a vanilla and chocolate cake with red icing. It’s black and white and red all over, get it? Please don’t be mad at me, that was my husband’s idea. I’m so sorry.

Dinner with Oscar: The Shape of Water

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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.

When a movie like The Shape of Water comes around, I feel completely out of touch with the rest of the American, movie-going public. When I hear or read people raving about how much they like it, I wonder if we saw the same movie.

Granted, I began watching this movie pessimistically. I really had no interest in seeing it, but I did because I’d committed to writing about all of the Best Picture Oscar nominees. The truth is, while I haven’t seen many Guillermo del Toro movies, I haven’t liked any of them. I didn’t like Hellboy and I didn’t like Pan’s Labyrinth. I did not see Pacific Rim because I thought it looked really stupid. 

This probably says something more about me than about his movies. But it always seems to me that they are nice to look at but there isn’t much to think about. I am not a visual person, I am a cerebral person. That probably makes me sound like an asshole, but it also makes me find Guillermo del Toro movies really, really boring.

Everyone who has seen The Shape of Water trailer knows exactly what the movie is about. There are no surprises, no narrative twists. I’m not saying a movie has to have a shock ending for me to enjoy it, but there does need to be some layers to the characters, some subtlety. There is nothing like that in this film.

The movie annoyed me in the first few minutes and I have to admit I sort of checked out from there. Here’s what it did that irritated me so: there is a shot of Elisa’s [Sally Hawkins] naked body with her head chopped out of the frame. Has del Toro never read a single article on the male gaze in cinema? Are we still doing that?

What immediately follows is Elisa masterbating within the confines of an egg timer. I get it, he’s trying to show that this woman is not just a mute but she has a rich inner life full of the desires that most everyone has. I’m all for normalizing female pleasure and self-pleasure, but there is a better way to do it. This felt like a cinematic version of the “feminist” bro. You know what I’m talking about.

Furthermore, del Toro commits another sin to women in cinema: he literally takes away her voice. Our main character is a female—great—but she is a female who cannot talk. In a time when women are fighting hard to be listened to, literally, and are finally achieving it, this part of the story struck a particularly sour note with me. Then again, I have been repeatedly accused of being unable to separate my political from my personal. Maybe these are my own hangups and I actually am missing something brilliant. It’s not that she doesn’t communicate throughout the movie. She does. I just don’t understand the goal of making her a mute, except to drum up sympathy for the character which feels very heavy-handed.

The other characters are similarly flat. I love Michael Shannon but his character is the most boring kind of bad guy. We don’t know why he’s such a dick--he just is. Octavia Spencer is a tiresome black sidekick stereotype with her stock phrases of “Mmm-hmm” and “Oh, honey,” not to mention her domestic abuse situation. 

I get that the story is an allegory of love and intolerance. Maybe the problem for me is that I have never loved allegories. I like a story that will look a problem straight in the face and go on with saying its piece. 

Clearly, the Academy did not take my complaints into account because The Shape of Water has the most nominations of any film this year with 13. Best Picture, Lead Actress for Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins for supporting actor [he plays Elisa’s gay neighbor], Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, Best Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Original Score, and Costume Design.

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What to make: Something with hard boiled eggs is obvious here. Deviled eggs or egg salad would work nicely for a party. This next suggestion my husband gets either the credit or blame for, whichever you want to assign: hot dogs cut in half with mustard on them, to symbolize Michael Shannon’s character’s lost fingers.

Dinner with Oscar: Darkest Hour

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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 am not the first reviewer to point out how odd it is that two Oscar-nominated films cover the same very specific historical incident: the evacuation of Allied troops from the northern French beach, Dunkirk. While Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation from the point of view of the military men and civilians sent to save them, Darkest Hour is focused on the political side, especially Winston Churchill’s role. 

The most significant buzz surrounding Darkest Hour is Gary Oldman’s physical disappearance into Winston Churchill. Oldman is nominated for Best Actor, and I will be surprised if he doesn’t win. It’s also nominated for Hair and Makeup and I will be very surprised if it doesn’t win. But while the film tells a compelling story, it is really just a vehicle for Oldman and I don’t think it does much more than that. Which is OK! A movie being a vehicle for a good actor does not make a bad movie, but I did leave the theater feeling like I wanted something more.

It’s very difficult to talk about either Dunkirk or Darkest Hour without making a comparison which is probably a disservice to both of them. But, regardless, here’s why I think Dunkirk is the better movie: it is more unique. We have scores of films about important [old, white] men making important decisions about war and politics. And that’s really all Darkest Hour is about. Sure, we also have plenty of movies about men in the trenches, so to speak, but the three-pronged way Nolan approached the evacuation and the way he truly immerses the audience in the action is remarkable.

I think that Darkest Hour is a good movie and I would watch it again. It has a clear narrative structure and builds tension masterfully. I think it would be very hard to watch this movie and not feel stressed out, which is a good thing. But I also think the best parts feel the most forced. The secretary [Lily James] is clearly a narrative tool to allow the audience to get to know Churchill better, especially his softer and more quirky sides. Narrative tools are fine, but this one wasn’t exactly subtle.

The most memorable scene is when Churchill spontaneously boards a London Underground train after disagreeing with his cabinet members about whether to sign a peace deal with Hitler. Once aboard, he interacts with the people in his car and asks if they think, as British citizens, it would be a good idea to enter peace negotiations with Nazi Germany or if they should fight it out. All of the people: men, women, and adorable little girl say they should fight. This mobilizes Churchill enough to refuse to enter into talks with Hitler, they go through with the original evacuation plan, and commit to fighting Nazis.

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It’s a good scene, but it’s also a touch too precious. The fact is, history is messy. Far messier than can adequately be covered in a film with a reasonable run time so scenes like this serve to make it into something that’s more easily digestible. But it came across as phony to me, however entertaining and touching it also was.

In addition to the nominations already discussed, Darkest Hour is also nominated for Cinematography, Production Design, and Costume Design for a total of six nominations.

What to make: Since Churchill is always smoking a cigar, you can make pastry cigars. Or just have scotch. Even better if you watch this movie in the morning, make yourself a full breakfast, ignore the breakfast and drink only the scotch. And have the pastry cigar.

Dinner with Oscar: Call Me by Your Name

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I had a very visceral reaction to Call Me by Your Name and it wasn’t a good one.

The film is about a relationship between Elio [Timothée Chalamet] and Oliver [Armie Hammer] when Oliver stays with Elio’s family in Italy as a doctoral student and assistant to Elio’s professor father. It is well-written and the performances are fantastic. But I feel unqualified to assess this movie on its cinematic merits.

What I didn’t like about the movie was what a lot of people found uncomfortable about the movie: the age difference between Elio and Oliver. Elio is 17 and Oliver is 24. Granted, if we’re just counting years, that’s not that much. My own husband is 6 years old than me, so I might sound like a hypocrite. However, I did not begin my relationship with my husband when I was 17. 

I watched this movie over a week ago, and have been mulling it over since then. My reaction to this movie comes from two places, one was immediately apparent to me and one was not. The obvious perspective I have that made me dislike this movie is that I am a high school teacher. I have taught hundreds of students of Elio’s age and in my mind, teenagers are students and absolutely off-limits. Teenagers are still children. I spend every work day with 15-18-year olds and am more familiar with teenagers’ psyche than are most adults. If one of my students told me that they were having a relationship with someone in their mid-twenties, I would be very concerned. 

Which brings me to my next point, a thing I generally avoid thinking about and have trouble writing about. When I was 18, a year older than Elio, I had a relationship with someone much older than I. And that relationship was psychologically damaging to me, because of the power imbalance among other things. Watching Call Me by Your Name and having the reaction I did made me realize how predatory that relationship was. That’s obviously my own personal baggage; there are probably people with a similar experience who did not find it harmful. But my negative experience certainly colored the way I viewed the movie. 

This is not a question of sexual harassment or assault. The relationship between Elio and Oliver was not lacking in consent. Elio certainly gave enthusiastic consent -- he was the one who actively pursued Oliver. But I just couldn’t see it as a portrayal of a beautiful relationship the way others are seeing it because to my mind, Oliver should have never let it happen. He should have been a responsible adult, realized that Elio is just a kid with raging hormones, and put a stop to the whole thing.

Maybe this all makes me sound like a prude, but I can’t help it. I found the movie upsetting. 

In addition to its nomination for Best Picture, Timothée Chalamet is nominated for Lead Actor, James Ivory is nominated for Adapted Screenplay, and “Mystery of Love” is nominated for Original Song.

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What to make: Apricots are mentioned throughout the film, as Elio’s family grows them. There is also that scene with the peach. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. So a peach and apricot pie would be suitable. Or, is it going too far to suggest peaches and cream?

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.