Our critics roundtable discusses the Oscar chances for Luca Guadagnino’s lush gay romance.
Each year, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences nominates between five and 10 movies to compete for the Oscars‘ Best Picture trophy — its most prestigious award, and the one given out at the very end of the night. What “best picture” really means is a little fuzzy, but the most accurate way of characterizing it might be that it indicates how Hollywood wants to remember the past year in film.
The Best Picture winner, in other words, is the movie that represents the film industry in America, what it’s capable of, and how it sees itself at a specific point in time.
So when we look at the nominee slate for any given year, we’re essentially looking at a list of possibilities for the way Hollywood will ultimately characterize the previous 12 months in film. And one thing that’s definitely true about the nine Best Picture nominees from 2017 is that they exhibit a lot of variety.
There are genre films and art films, horror films and history films, romances and tragicomedies. And thinking about what the Academy voters — as well as audiences and critics — found enticing about them helps us better understand both Hollywood and what we were looking for at the movies more broadly this year.
In the runup to the Oscars, Vox’s culture staff decided to take a look at each of the nine Best Picture nominees in turn. What made this film appealing to Academy voters? What makes it emblematic of the year? And should it win?
In this installment, we talk about Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, a rich, sensual, gorgeous gay romance with starmaking turns for Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Compared to many of the other films in this year’s Best Picture race, its chances of winning are low; we discuss why, and what it means that it was nominated at all.
Alissa Wilkinson: On paper, Call Me by Your Name isn’t perhaps the most obvious Best Picture choice. It’s based on a novel, set in Italy in the 1980s, told in several languages, and helmed by an Italian director, not to mention that it’s a gay romance — the kind of movie that in years past might have been too niche for the Academy. Yet it went over well with critics and was beloved by audiences (even if it didn’t pull in the same box office numbers as some of its fellow Best Picture nominees).
By your estimation, what is it about the film that appealed to Academy voters? Why have people responded so strongly to it? What landed it on the list of Best Picture nominees?
Caroline Framke: After hearing so much early buzz about how good Call Me by Your Name was (and being an inexplicably passionate Armie Hammer fan), I really thought there was no way this movie could meet my expectations. But lo, it did. Call Me by Your Name has such a languid pull, a quiet heat that pulls you into Elio and Oliver’s gorgeous summer — and into the looming pain of losing it that finally crashes in the movie’s astonishing final take of Elio mourning what he’s lost.
What I’m trying to say is, Call Me by Your Name is straight-up lovely. I’m not surprised people responded to it, especially given how hard and earnestly Chalamet and Hammer have been selling it since before its premiere more than a year ago at Sundance. And even though Sony arguably dropped the ball on Call Me by Your Name’s Oscar campaign — I genuinely don’t think it saw Three Billboards‘ surge coming — this movie features the kind of beautifully rendered performances that tend to grab the Academy’s attention.
But we also can’t discount the fact that even though Call Me by Your Name tells a very specifically queer love story, the movie adaptation was very carefully packaged to be more supposedly appealing to a “general” audience. While promoting the film, Chalamet and Hammer (who are both straight) spoke more respectfully but cautiously about their characters’ queerness than anything else, and even director Luca Guadagnino (who is gay) spoke about wanting to tell a “universal” story. At my screening, a Q&A with all three saw Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers gush that Call Me by Your Name wasn’t just a “gay love story” but a universal “coming-of-age story.”
That, to me, is both completely wrong and a real shame. This movie tells a queer love story that’s only made stronger by the specific details that wouldn’t exist in a straight one. It’s about two men falling for each other in the ‘80s — a time when gay men were near demonized by the AIDS crisis — and having a beautiful summer getting to know each other and themselves. It arguably peaks with that beautiful speech from Elio’s dad (the one and only Michael Stuhlbarg) about not wasting this connection and not ending their lives with questions of “What if?” and regrets.
With all that said, I unfortunately do think a more generalized framing helps movies with queer romances break out of their so-called “niche” mold to become something like an Oscar frontrunner. Somehow, making it out to be a “coming-of-age” tale makes it more palatable to people who imagine they couldn’t otherwise relate.
I haven’t read André Aciman’s source novel — or listened to Hammer’s audiobook version of it, because I definitely wouldn’t survive it — but my understanding is that it’s a whole lot more explicit than the movie. So I’m curious to hear more about that from you, Alex, since I know you read it and have some Opinions on the …read more