The Other "Dunkirk"

Tomorrow is the Superbowl for Indoor Kids, aka the Academy Awards. For those of us who care about such things, tomorrow is truly a sport. We coddle our favorite underdogs, we feverishly denounce the perceived sell-outs, we mercilessly critique the wardrobes. It's like the Winter Olympics, only is Wes Anderson is America and James Cameron is North Korea.

Sorry James Cameron, that was harsh. You can dry your tears with all your money.

I adore the Oscars. Well, except for that one year they made See You Next Tuesday. And this year, we have a particularly fine cache of best picture movies, especially now that there are ten films to chose from. (I wrote about the move from five movies to ten movies here. Aaand apparently I've always had it out for James Cameron.)

So that we're all on the same page, this year's Best Picture Nominees are:

“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
 “Get Out”
“Lady Bird” 
“Phantom Thread” 
“The Post” 
“The Shape of Water” 
 “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Though all of these movies deserve the nomination, they still all occupy a pretty stereotypical Oscar-role typecast. You've got your classic Academy-bait ("The Post"), your war movie ("Dunkirk"), your vehicle-for-heavyweight-character-actor-to-have-face-covered-in-unrecognizable-putty-makeup ("Darkest Hour"), your beautiful, taboo, oh-so-European romance ("Call Me by Your Name"), your coming-of-age movie ("Lady Bird"), your movie-Daniel-Day-Lewis-was-in ("Phantom Thread"), your race movie1 ("Get Out") and your requisite Cohen Brothers movie ("Three Billboards.")2

I also really like these Oscar Emojis by Aaron Fullerton.

But today I'm here to talk about Dunkirk. Specifically, the Oscar-nominated "Dunkirk," and the Dunkirk you've never heard of, a little movie called "Their Finest."

"Dunkirk" is not a favorite to win Best Picture, though The Guardian makes a compelling argument for why it should. It was released over the summer, well before the deluge of Christmas-time Oscar picks generally floods the market, and it got missed and overlooked by many people (it was actually re-released for awards season). I'll be honest, after "Hacksaw Ridge," I was bloody-war-movie fatigued (pun!) and had little interest in sitting through an emotional, horrifying, sweeping war epic. So I didn't. Until yesterday.

And I was wrong, because "Dunkirk" was excellent, riveting (pun!), and "insistently humanizing despite its monumentality," as The New York Times put it, which is totally what I was about to say, too.

There are lots of moments of tension, distress, apocalyptic fear, but there are also moments of incredible generosity and unimaginable kindness. (The moment when Tom Glynn-Carney tells Cillian Murphy that "George" will be alright? It gutted me completely.) At best it is life-changing; at worst it is completely worth seeing.

But "Dunkirk" wasn't 2017's only movie about Dunkirk. There's this great little movie called "Their Finest" that came out in April about the same event, namely, when civilian Brits were conscripted to send their personal boats — trollers and prawners and fishing boats —into Dunkirk to rescue trapped English soldiers. "Dunkirk" eulogizes this evacuation with a one-day glimpse in the attempts to rescue stranded soldiers under heavy enemy fire. "Their Finest" celebrates it with the story of the female writer who turned the events at Dunkirk into a pro-war, pro-women propaganda film.

"Their Finest" is a comedy and a romance and a lighthearted look at the flailing film industry in a world at war. Which isn't to say it's flippant or silly or untouched by the realities of bombing and death and disaster; for an overall upbeat film, there is no shortage of shelling, of bomb-shelters, of near-misses and actual hits. People die, buildings collapse under enemy fire, and yet, as really happened, the lives that are left must find restaurants to eat at, jobs to go to, and people to love. 

Also Bill Nighy's in it and I probably should have just led with that because he is MY FAVORITE.

Other than a third-act plot choice that I vehemently (and, my husband will tell you, quite vocally) disagreed with (I won't spoil it for you, but if you see the movie please commiserate with me in the comments because you'll know what I'm talking about), this little movie was nearly perfect. Gemma Arterton carries the lead with a charm that's part Carey Mulligan and part Kelly McDonald. Jack Huston (Richard Harrow from "Boardwalk Empire") has both sides of his face and none of his moral compass. Jake Lacy, who's that actor you know from that thing ("Obvious Child," "Girls," "Miss Sloan"), adds color (mostly the color "blond") and humor as a dumb American soldier whom the war propagandists have forced to act in the movie. And there's Bill Nighy who just...he's just...can we just give him an Oscar for "Best Wiggly Mumbler?" Because he is adorable.
Bill Nighy that suit is ridiculous and I LOVE IT!
So: in your last final frantic pre-Oscar hours, check out "Dunkirk" and "Their Finest" On Demand, preferably in that order. And come back here and comment on the things you didn't like!

Footnotes (Yup, there are FOOTNOTES in this blog!): 

1. "Get Out" is a complex movie that defies easy categorization. It's one of my favorites this year, and it's equal parts horror, comedy, and biting social satire. Saying it's the "race" movie is admittedly reductive, but the theme was stereotypical categories so THAT'S WHAT I DID.

2. The fact that this movie was not written/directed by the Cohen Brothers has nothing to do with the fact that it's a "Cohen Brothers movie" for Oscar purposes. Last year's Cohen Brother's movie was "Hell or High Water," which was neither written nor directed by the Cohens. The entire TV series Boardwalk Empire is a Cohen Brothers movie, despite my inability to prove that they are ghostwriting it.
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Write comments
Ashley King
March 3, 2018 at 11:55 AM delete

Great post about Dunkirk- I need to check out Their Finest. Also Darkest Hour had a lot about Dunkirk- the behind the scenes in the war cabinet and making the decision to let the 4000 British soldiers Calais die in an effort to divert German attention away from the 300,000 soldiers in Dunkirk. Very heart wrenching.


March 3, 2018 at 2:08 PM delete

In your rundown of how each movie is its own type of Oscar type-cast, I can't help but notice that you didn't mention the fish sex movie.

March 5, 2018 at 10:43 AM delete

You're totally right! I can't believe I forgot the "fish romance" genre, including such greats as "Splash" (nominated for best original screenplay in 1984), "Big Fish" (Danny Elfman nominated for best original score in 2003), "A Fish Called Wanda," (Kevin Kline won for best supporting actor in 1988, among other nominations), and "Free Willy," not nominated for anything, ever, but you can't say there wasn't something going on between Jesse and that whale.


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