The winning crop of the most recent Golden Globes movies was a triumph for fringe characters and outsiders, from the hardnosed biopic of controversial Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding to the monstrous romance detailing the back story of Abe Sapien.
We watched a lot of the nominations until our eyes almost bled out but here’s the fruit of our cineaste labor, our Top 5 picks among the winners.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
Best Director (Motion Picture) for Guillermo Del Toro
Best Original Score (Motion Picture) for Alexandre Desplat
Despite being too long and, at times rambling, this ranks at the top of Del Toro’s filmography of monsters. Maybe just a notch below Pan’s Labyrinth?
Attempting a Monster x Human love story without falling into B-movie pastiche is difficult enough, but making it with a creature as leftfield as Hellboy’s Abe Sapien raises the stakes as high as they will go. Abe, an aquatic biped once hailed as a god, isn’t exactly a fan favorite, but GDT shoots this with beautiful cinematography (and quite a few full frontal nudies). It also includes a heart wrenching score by Alexandre Desplat. The director looks upon this tale of two outsiders finding each other in the unlikeliest place with kindness.
The monster isn’t really the most interesting thing in this story as much as he is the gravitational center. It’s Sally Hawkins’ embattled, mute, janitress Eliza Esposito versus Michael Shannon’s masochist gov’t agent Strickland that’s the lightning in this exotic, volatile bottle. By now, Shannon’s villains from Boardwalk Empire’s Van Alden to Man of Steel’s Zod are the gold standard for three-dimensional bad guys.
With the levity and grounded common sense of Octavia Spencer, everything on this sludgy, visionary epic of 123 minutes is a sight to behold. Now, to see the Hellboy movies again!
THE DISASTER ARTIST
Best Performance by an Actor (Motion Picture) for James Franco
In 2003, a group of noob filmmakers set out to make their own movie, frustrated by their efforts to break into the entertainment industry. Big Franco and Little Franco, James and Dave respectively, breathe life into the making of the best-worst US cult movie in modern existence, and boy is it so much cringey fun to watch. It’s also hella funny.
Although James Franco’s Tommy Wiseau is crafted to the best kind of caricature, this really is Dave's time to shine as the embattled and struggling actor Greg Sestero—this is his autobiography, after all. At its heart this is about how outsiders and misfits can make it on their own in the movies, and how they end up with the most visceral, albeit unintended, reaction to their DIY efforts. If you can also watch the original movie, The Room, then your day will be made. Do it. And do it with your best friends for the best experience.
Best Performance by an Actress (Musical or Comedy) for Saorsie Ronan
Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy)
“Lady Bird” refers to the eccentric nickname teenager Christine McPherson goes by. It’s a signifier of rebellion, and a yearning for a better, different kind of sociable personality that makes her insist on it.
This is Christine’s love letter to her girlhood home of Sacramento. It’s also the story about how she outgrows her weird moniker. As coming of age movies go this is as ranty, touching, and hormonally charged as they come; the liner notes of Greta Gerwig’s autobiography as she alternately loathes and rhapsodizes over her old California home, her frustrating parents, her disappointing first time, and her high school friends.
Really, this is a mother and daughter narrative that also posits how American middle school life can be such a bitch to navigate, and about as much thrilling, awkward fun to watch. In one scene, Lady Bird is browsing a magazine she wants to buy, but is told by her mom that they can’t afford. “But I want to read it in bed!” exclaims Lady Bird. To which her mom replies: “That’s something rich people do, we’re not rich people.” Another scene has Lady Bird confronting her mother during a prom dress fitting: “I know you love me, but do you like me?” The answer, as you may likely predict, is precious and heartbreaking.
Saorsie Ronan shines, but we must include hoorays for Laurie Metcalf (Sheldon’s mom in The Big Bang Theory) as put-upon, impoverished suburban mom Marion McPherson.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Best Motion Picture (Drama)
Best Screenplay (Motion Picture)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama) for Frances McDormand
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Motion Picture) for Sam Rockwell
This year's Best Picture Drama winner is a Midwest outdoor advertising, uh, thriller packed to the nines with pathos that it becomes a meditation on inner and community pain, sustained and high and keening. Prepare your body—and tissues—accordingly.
Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is in deep mourning over the unsolved rape and murder of her teen daughter. She’s equally in rage over the ineffectual investigative efforts of the local town police. So she puts up the titular three billboards to goad the resident Sheriff Bill Willoughby (a slim and focused Woody Harrelson) into action. Also, watch out for Sam Rockwell’s redemptive arc that won him the Best Supporting plum.
Between McDormand and Harrelson’s shoulders are the weight of this story carried into various inner and communal Golgothas, like a cross on their backs, happy to let us see their suffering, a masterclass of thespianism on full display. One of the most powerful, emotive scenes is when Harrelson’s Sherrif exclaims “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that, it was an accident!” after he coughs up blood on to McDormand’s face. The palimpsest of agony and embarrassment on his face is as precious as lightning cracking across an empty mountain scape.
Beyond the surplus of fringe characters under duress is the theme of confrontation of truth as a town clusterfuck, like how certain events define specific places for good or ill. Some stories are just too hurtful to live through, how they disintegrate values as the woe of your pain devours every sweetness and civility, but the twists and the pastoral setting make this one compelling. And the ending makes of this movie a prayer or, at the least, a petition to the better angels of our nature.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Motion Picture) for Allison Janney
As much rednecks on ice as the unpacking of the tragedy of an abused outsider, this one made it to the top of our list with its charisma and prickly, ragged-edged verite.
Tonya Harding as doomed misfit trying to fit into an elitist and classist sport is played by Margot Robbie without pretension or caution. This is the dramatic role she will be remembered for, despite her costar getting the plum for Best Supporting Actress—Allison Janney as LaVona Harding, Tonya’s level 9,000 tiger and helicopter mother.
Robbie’s portrayal of Tonya ranks right up there with the Walter Whites, except she’s real. And Tonya Harding (now Price) is still alive, which is exciting from a nonfictional standpoint, for a true-to-life redemptive arc. Robbie’s Tonya is badass, gifted, sympathetic, and we are inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt for both her good intentions and her mess of a childhood. The athlete she grows up to be may be a winner and a wizard on the ice but she’s still battered, generally unloved, and wanting so desperately to be loved.
Did she know about the plan to kneecap Kerrigan? It’s all here, along with her story of abandonment and woe, her technical triumphs on the ice, and her poor choice in men and friends, weighed in our hearts all over again like it’s the '90s.
In one of the pivotal scenes, Tonya accosts a skating judge backstage about her poor scores despite a stellar performance. The judge reluctantly spits out that it wasn’t really all just about her proficiency on the ice, but that they want to see a “wholesome American family” win. Astounded, the teenaged Tonya retorts with sadness and statement of fact: “I don’t have a wholesome American family.”
While I would have loved more scenes to get to know Nancy Kerrigan, this is a full treatise on the dark side of athletics. It’s where meritocracy goes to die, taking a back seat to image and politicking. It is also a portrait of one of the most controversial figures of the 1990s. Ultimately, it's a story about those of us who can own the sin of a lifetime and thrive in the light of such infamy.