With less than a month to go until the 90th installment of the Academy Awards, we are going to take the next few weeks to look back at the 9 films nominated for the night’s top prize – Best Picture. By virtue of getting a nomination, these films are all standouts in their own right, but only one will be cemented in the annals of history as the best film of the year in the eyes of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. So which film has the best shot? To answer that question, we are going to review each of the nominees. Today we look back at The Post.
If you were so inclined to use baseball as an analog to the year in movies, Steven Spielberg’s The Post would be the all-star game. From top to bottom, the roster is stacked with both established and up-and-coming talent, anchored by two standout captains and one hall of fame manager. Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg are a common answer to the question “who are the best actress, actor, and director currently working in Hollywood?” In The Post, they all team up to tell the story of the infamous Pentagon Papers and the legal fight and questions of accountability that accompanied them.
While The Post is set in the early 70’s, its themes feel strangely contemporary. The film tackles many topics that are as ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist today as they were over 40 years ago: moral obligation, freedom of speech, national security, and women in the workplace. All of these themes are expertly woven together against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, highlighted by the release of the classified study that came to be known as The Pentagon Papers, which led to protests across the nation and mistrust of the Nixon administration.
Though The New York Times was the first newspaper to publish any articles documenting what was found in the classified study, it was The Washington Post that openly defied the Nixon administration’s wishes by continuing to shine a spotlight on the secrets kept within the 4,000 page study. The decision to publish, made by Kay Graham (Streep) but strongly fought for by Ben Bradlee (Hanks), put the newspaper in direct opposition with the government and threatened to destroy the company that Graham’s father had started.
Pros & Cons
The Post has a lot of positives going for it. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are, as we have come to expect, fantastic as Graham and Bradlee. There is a reason they are considered two of the most gifted movie stars of this, or any, generation and their performances in The Post will only enhance their legacies. If nothing else, The Post will be remembered as the first time that Spielberg has directed Streep, and if it comes to pass that this is the only time these two titans work together, The Post is certainly a worthwhile entry into both of their IMDb filmographies.
The star power of Hanks and Streep are enough to carry any film, but Spielberg wisely surrounds them with an outstanding supporting cast. While you might not be able to recall all the names, you will certainly recognize the faces of Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Michael Stuhlbarg (who appears in a staggering 3 of the 9 movies nominated for Best Picture this year), Bradley Whiford, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, and Zach Woods, just to name a few. The gravity of each supporting cast member’s character on the overall story varies, but Spielberg gets the best out of each actor as they all manage to turn in memorable performances with limited screen time. It will not come as a surprise to any fans of AMC’s Better Call Saul, but Odenkirk shines in particular as his career continues to evolve from a background comedic bit player, to roles with a little more dramatic weight to them.
My one gripe with The Post is the way it vilifies Richard Nixon and heavy-handedly injects the filmmaker’s personal politics into the narrative. It would be impossible to tell this story without instilling some level of political preference, but Spielberg does it in a way that does not give the opposition a chance to explain their motivations. Nixon is simply painted as an evil man who nefariously misled the American people and while there might be shades of truth to that, other presidents and publish officials certainly had a hand in making the decisions that ultimately led to the calamity in Vietnam.
In addition to painting the Nixon administration with a broad brush, it is not a far logical leap to see Spielberg using Nixon as a stand-in for Trump and today’s political unrest. Perhaps I am bringing my own personal bias to the table, but again this felt a little clumsy and unnecessary, particularly in the last scene in the film. While it did not diminish my enjoyment of the movie overall, I thought it could have been handled a little more deftly, particularly by a filmmaker as talented as Spielberg.
Can It Win?
So does The Post have a legitimate shot at winning the Best Picture Oscar? In my opinion, it can but it probably will not.
Prior to last year, I would have considered The Post the front-runner for the award. It’s hard not to draw comparisons between The Post and another film about a newspaper battling against the establishment: 2016’s Best Picture winner, Spotlight. However, with last year’s surprise winner, Moonlight, it feels like The Academy might be evolving away from the traditional standards and criteria it has used to select its winners in the past. Even though we are only two years removed from Spotlight taking the prize, I have a feeling that last year will mark a turning point for The Academy and we will see more and more non-traditional movies being selected as the best of the year. Certainly not to take anything away from Spielberg, because I really enjoyed the film, but if The Post is anything, it is a traditional Oscar-bait movie.