Dinner with Oscar: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


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.


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.