It has recently come to my attention that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is, in fact, the front runner for Best Picture at the Oscars. Frankly, I feel it should not even have been nominated. Though, kudos to our own Diana Metzger for predicting this exact thing happening, while (rightfully) lamenting the absence of Michael Stuhlberg’s two great performances in the nominee list.
For all the call outs to the Academy this year (this decade!), I see how a film about a strong, take-no-shit woman seeking to avenge her daughter with a slogan driven kick-in-the butt to the white men who don’t care would seem a good choice for a Best Picture nomination. In fact, I could see a great t-shirt line come out of this whole thing (STILL NO ARRESTS? – I mean, I’d wear that around town).
I GET IT. IT STILL SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN NOMINATED.
My reasons for feeling this are not based in the racial, gender and gun control contraversy that surrounds Martin McDonaugh’s film. Good movies SHOULD be conversation starters.
They are based on the fact that no one is discussing: that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is a deeply flawed film, from a purely filmmaking perspective. So flawed, that one could even argue this is NOT a good film at all, but a troubled film with three great performances in it.
This is the point where I would like to say that I do LOVE Martin McDonaugh’s previous work (stage AND screen), and that I was really very excited to see this film, and that I do think the performances in it are Academy Award worthy and I will be the first one up and applauding Frances and Sam as they pick up their statues (which they will). But that is not reason enough to like the film itself.
Alan Zilberman, in reviewing Three Billboards for us (and giving it a well earned 45%) addressed some of the problems: Having conquered Ireland and becoming a voice for its people, McDonagh thought he could do the same for Middle America. I hate it break it to him, but it’s not that easy.
The characters, while amazing showcases for the capable actors performing them, are mostly caricatures. The mid-point of extreme violence does, I agree, cheapen the rest of the movie. But, and this is a testament to my devotion to McDonaugh and McDormand and Rockwell and Harrelson, I would have been able to overlook all that, if the film worked as what it was laid out to be: A MYSTERY, that also happens to be a character study.
McDonaugh completely forgoes any and all logic in his proceedings – there is no actual investigative work, there are no actual procedural moments, there is no rhyme or reason (however flawed the reasoning of these characters may be) to the narrative. And certain scenes (the aforementioned act of violence, the very awkward sexualization of certain moments, etc) feel completely and utterly out of place in the story that, I presume, was trying to be told.
The ending makes no sense.
The scenes preceding the ending make no sense.
Most of the movie, basically, makes no sense if you were to actually think about what would make ANY sense in any of the situations presented. Yes, it is meant to be an “outrageous film about outrage” (thank you Alan for that perfect qualification) but there is no reason to put it into the format of solving a mystery if, in fact, you have no intention to even start solving it during the whole duration of the film.
Any viewer that didn’t feel cheated leaving the film is a viewer who wasn’t thinking during it.
When you look at some of the rest of the nominees: the stunningly raw Call Me By Your Name (which is this year’s best movie, and Luca Guadagnino was ROBBED of a Best Director nomination), the charmingly self-aware Lady bird (which is this year’s 2nd best movie), the purposefully quiet epic of Dunkirk, the magical world of The Shape of Water (which is this year’s 3rd best movie) and the elegant restraint of Phantom Thread, the refreshing anger of The Post, even the elevated genre popcorn movie that is Get Out, it feels almost cheapening to include Three Billboards in this company.
There are two films I could compare Three Billboards to this year: Wind River and I, Tonya. Both of these are ok movies with great performances (and we look forward to seeing Allison Janney stand up there with her Oscar), featuring a marginalized group of people and aiming to have you exclaim “God help the humanity, if this is what goes on”.
Both suffer from flawed logic and filmmaking that both takes too much time in certain spots and not enough time in others. Neither of these films was nominated for Best Picture, and rightfully so. Neither of them are anywhere near as frustrating to the viewer as Three Billboards.
Despite the pressures it is feeling, the Academy should not lose sight of what it is there for to do: reward quality filmmaking. No matter the topic, or filmmaker. That’s how Oscars will ultimately redeem themselves. And nominating Three Billboards for the ultimate honor is a step backwards.