|Source: Fox Searchlight Pictures|
|Source: Fox Searchlight Pictures|
Like most movie lovers I make a point to see the Academy Award Best Picture nominees each year. While the selections tend to be hit or miss from year to year I generally enjoy the Academy's choices and finish watching each film with some semblance of understanding why they were worthy of the nomination. This year was no exception, a worthy list of well made films which ultimately led to Guilllermo Del Toro's romantic fantasy The Shape Of Water taking home the Oscar. Even though I felt that the film was very well made and very enchanting, to me it was also a distant second in comparison to the powerhouse movie that was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Today's vision of Hollywood, and film making in general, is very much a philosophy of "the bigger, the better". The more action, more effects, more star power, the better. The Shape Of Water politely contained all of those elements- great special effects (particularly the creature), top level acting from the likes of Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer to name a few names, and various levels of fantasy and adventure throughout. But every once in a while a movie comes along that is based on two simple, yet very powerful standards of movie making- a great script enhanced by great acting.
These standards certainly applied to Three Billboards- there is no grand spectacle taking place, no over the top stunts, and no eye catching visual effects. There is however razor sharp dialogue that is masterfully delivered by each actor in their respective parts. The story, written by the films director, Martin McDonagh, is so engaging that the central issue surrounding the film, the unsolved murder of Mildred Hayes' daughter, is never actually witnessed in the movie but is so vividly depicted by the words and actions of the characters within the story that, as the movie watcher, the feelings of pain and suffering are very prevalent and very real. The main character of Mildred Hayes is played by Best Actress award winning Frances McDormand. Her resume thus far has already been one of astounding, wonderful performances, but this one maybe the best to date. Mildred Hayes is a character operating on numerous emotional levels ranging from anger, to sadness, to wicked determination and callous defiance- McDormand excels at each and everyone from beginning to end. Woody Harrelson is also spectacular as the troubled Sheriff William Willoughby who serves as the focal point of Mildred's protest of her town's law enforcement and their inability to find her daughter's killer. McDormand and Harrelson are the stars of the film but that is not to say that the supporting cast is not also stellar- Sam Rockwell won the Best Supporting Actor award for his performance as the misguided deputy Officer Dixon, and Peter Dinklage also gives a great performance as James the ever optimistic "friend" of Mildred's, always pining for her affection.
It would be easy to keep listing great performances by each great actor in the film, but I don't want to veer too far off of the point of the article. That point being Three Billboards is a film that did not need anything more than what was provided on screen and yet was certainly one of the most engaging films I have seen in a while. This is most impressive when considering it did not contain many of the elements that are considered essential components needed to make a film successful in today's world of cinema. Films of this caliber and quality don't come along all that often and it's a shame that the Academy did not see things the same way.