On Thursday, the New York Film Critics Circle gave out its annual awards. The NYFCC nods, along with other critical awards like them, tend to kick Oscar prognostication into a higher gear, providing the first hard evidence of how a voting body might rank the year’s cinematic offerings. I’m sorry to report the evidence so far suggests that movie-award givers this year are poised to make a woeful mistake. For the NYFCC has given its Best Picture award to Lady Bird.
Now, Lady Bird is a wonderful movie, a subtle portrait of a high school senior in Sacramento and her fitful separation from the people who raised her and the place where she grew up. It’s full of stunning performances—particularly from Saoirse Ronan, who stars, and Laurie Metcalf, who plays her complicated mom.
But anyone who cares about the movies should be rooting for a different film to win Best Picture this year—at the Oscars and everywhere else: Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The director’s “social thriller” is considered to be in the running, but it’s a long shot for several reasons. It’s both a horror movie and a comedy, and neither genre is known for racking up awards. And it came out in February, long before the buckets of plump Oscar bait currently angling for voter attention.
However, voters—including those at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, who make their elections on Sunday—should give Get Out a serious look. Not just because it’s a masterpiece, although it is—a perfectly calibrated cinematic experience that explores whether America has come as far as it thinks it has on race, arguably the central topic of our cultural and political life right now. No, voters should choose Get Out for a much more craven reason: Get Out made movies matter again.
Think back on what it was like when Get Out arrived last winter. One of our most beloved comedians, late of the dearly departed sketch show Key & Peele, had a new film. His previous outing, Keanu, was goofy and honestly pretty bad. But Get Out proved to be electrifying. Taut, funny, smart as hell. Audiences flocked to it, earning it more than $250 million. Everyone was talking about it. It felt like the nightmare surprise of Trump’s election had been perfectly synthesized into a single, brilliant, popular piece of art. And it seemed—crucially—like movies might have something important to say to us once again.
When was the last time a popular cinematic masterpiece had something important and topical to say about the world? Wonder Woman was popular and topical, but not a masterpiece. Moonlight was a topical masterpiece, but not really popular outside movie aficionado circles. You can play this game for a while, but it’s hard to think of another recent film that hits this trifecta. Get Out would be the highest-grossing Best Picture winner in a decade.
The people who vote for movie awards are for the most part people who have a stake in the movies: the critics in their various circles; the writers, producers, actors, and directors in their various guilds. These are people who must feel, in their bones, that cinema is under threat. Television is the medium that has people buzzing. Television is the medium that is growing. In movies, the current economic model supports the making of dreck and occasional, precious, award-seeking gemstones. 2017 is a year that produced, in Get Out, a knockout counterargument to film’s decline: Proof that a movie can be a sturdy, audience-pleasing hit, excellent, and important at the same time.
That’s why any vote for Lady Bird (or Call Me By Your Name, or The Post, or the seamstress movie) is a vote against self-interest. A vote for Get Out is a vote for the relevance of movies. A vote for Lady Bird is tantamount to saying, “OK, fine, let’s just be jazz.”
Don’t let movies go the way of jazz, people. Get Out is 2017’s best picture, and it should be 2017’s Best Picture. It’s up to you to make that so.