In this year's Oscars race, only one film stands out

31 January 2018, 13:12

It seems not so long ago that some of the year's best movies were justly celebrated at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. That time has passed.

In 2008, the Academy had its best and most fierce competition to date, with The Coen Brothers' modern classic No Country For Old Men running against Paul Thomas Anderson's masterful There Will Be Blood.

The year before, it was The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine. Two years ago, we had Spotlight, The Revenant and Mad Max. Last year Moonlight, Manchester By The Sea and Hell Or High Water.

Whether or not you agree with the outcome, whether or not you feel one brilliant cinematic gem has been snubbed - like The Assassination Of Jesse James in 2007 -, the truth is the Oscars was a ceremony that people watched because of the movies.

There was always the complaint that the decisions were "so political", but that just meant the game was rigged or the jury was biased.

What it means now, in the year 2018, is that a movie will be chosen not for its technical craft, artistic merit or even abstract emotion, but for its political correctness.

:: Phantom Thread co-star Vicky Krieps: 'American society is numb'

Look around Twitter and you'll find a new controversial hashtag emerging. After #OscarsSoWhite and #OscarsSoMale, it's time for #OscarsSoPolitical.

This year more than ever, the best picture contenders seem to be a who's who of diversity and inclusion.

A gay romance, a racial satire, a feminist coming-of-age, an anti-Trump protest film, a fantasy sci-fi about social inclusion, a racially-charged drama about police brutality and, not one, but two British movies about the heroism and glory of the politics of yesteryear.

These are all relevant movies, some of them are even good. But they are not the year's best.

They are the Academy's fear of its own shadow.

:: Awards season: Who tops the year's list?

For years, the Hollywood elite has ignored minorities, manufactured sexist archetypes and perpetuated a culture of abuse. Now, they're trying to make up for it.

But in its clumsy quest to erase past mistakes, the Oscars have become irrelevant - a sub-product of an industry detached from its purpose and muddied by politics.

Still, in the midst of all the box-ticking and crowd pleasing, there is one movie whose artistic flair warrants a place in the pantheon.

Paul Thomas Anderson's Phantom Thread is, in every way, a masterpiece. It's beautiful and strange and unique. The tale of a narcissistic and spoiled couturier who falls in love with a waitress.

It's also Daniel Day-Lewis' last ever role, according to the actor himself. And what a fitting farewell it is.

If there was any doubt left that Day-Lewis was the great actor of our generation, his nuanced and yet extravagant interpretation of the equally lavishly-named Reynolds Jeremiah Woodcock should put it to rest.

:: Oscars: Full list of nominations

But the movie's biggest asset, its most refreshing characteristic, is its foreign nature. How little Hollywood it is.

Slow, soft and weirdly comical, it has the pace of a piano concerto and the artistic discipline of an old seamstress.

It also features a fairly unknown actress whose name we should never again forget.

Luxembourg native Vicky Krieps delivers her Hollywood debut with a mixture of purity and confidence, of one who knows she can make it in Hollywood but would really rather stay in Europe, far from the maddening crowd.

Speaking to her at the Soho Hotel in London, Krieps told me how she didn't worry much about acting with Day-Lewis, known for his obsessive method acting, and how P T Anderson is not really American.

"A California boy," she called him, whose "mind is everywhere and anywhere".

Krieps was also the only person involved in the film available to sit down with journalists. Neither the star Day-Lewis, the director Anderson or even Jonny Greenwood, the composer, have made any effort to draw attention to it.

I suppose that's how you act when you've made something truly great. You don't feel a need to sell it - the job is already done.

:: Phantom Thread opens in UK cinemas 2 February