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A Fashionable Unpacking of 2017’s Oscar-Nominated Best Pictures

Oct 26 2019

The SSENSE Editors Dissect the Best Films of the Year Using Nikes and Silk Socks

For the most part, predicting what films the Academy will nominate each year isn’t a challenge, and in the past few years they have been increasingly criticized, even boycotted, for their consistently exclusive, white Boy’s Club selections. But this year, there were some pleasant surprises: Jordan Peele became the fifth black director ever nominated, while Greta Gerwig is the fifth woman ever nominated for Best Director, and Guillermo del Toro’s unconventional romance/political allegory ft. agreeable communist character swept up a great-many nominations. All of this tells us something about our moment in time, and so do the MacGuffins, sartorial or otherwise, hidden within the films. Here, SSENSE editors analyze some of the best films of the year by shopping them symbolically.

, Christopher Nolan

The wristwatch makes literal the notion that time is a construct—it quantifies it, which feels the same as making it real. Film has the opposite effect, warping our perception of that linear flow. Christopher Nolan seizes on this dynamic—temporal irregularity drives the action within his film-worlds and comprises the narrative frameworks that gird them. , his World War II epic, is no exception. He dramatizes the evacuation of British troops in the French coastal town of Dunkirk from three perspectives, out of order. For one character—Tom Hardy’s Farrier, a RAF pilot—a wristwatch becomes a key prop when he’s forced to use it to track his fuel supply after a gauge shatters in his cockpit. The cumulative effect is weirdly meta, demanding the viewer follow the action while unscrambling the chronology in real time—

, Greta Gerwig

No cheesy event marks the coming of age quite like prom. But Greta Gerwig's shows it's often not the frivolous fantasy it's imagined to be. Donning a shiny, flower-embellished, thrift-store number, Lady Bird is certain she's found for the occasion. "Is it too pink?," her mother questions—and maybe it is, paired with her equally-fuchsia highlights. But something about her choice feels right. Like in , when Andie designs her own iconic frock. Or when Josie opts for an unlikely but symbolic Shakespeare-inspired gown in . Representative of the gateway from high school to independence, prom portrays the complexities of what it means to be a teenager teetering on the brink of adulthood. It is the fear of the unknown dancing with the thrill of the future. reminds us that throughout the journey, it's not the dress that wears the girl, it's the girl that wears the dress.

, Jordan Peele

The horror in doesn’t come at the dissolving hands of zombies or ghosts, although Jordan Peele’s spectre is something pasty, carnivorous, and relentlessly haunting: white supremacy. When white hypnotherapist matriarch Missy (Catherine Keener) stirs her tea, she creates a fixation device to hypnotize Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), her daughter’s black boyfriend. The use of a spoon as the object of transfixion isn’t incidental; the hypnotic silver spoon is a stand-in for inherited wealth and privilege, two things that white people have been using to reduce peripheral awareness for centuries.

, Guillermo del Toro

“Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me.” Part of the success of Guillermo del Toro’s is probably the fact that aquaphilia is kind of an unsurprising fetish. Desire and water share so many principles; they are both fluid, encompassing, penetrating, uncontainable. The urge to be entirely swathed in something is instinctive, tapping into an innate biological appeal no doubt linked to our nine unforgettable months enwombed. Whether by liquid, by love, or by knit sneakers, we want to feel completely surrounded, entirely held. The shape of the Nike VaporMax are—as water, as del Toro’s fishman—unfathomable, their bubbling amorphous soles inspiring an adoration that is incomprehensible, but ardent and irrepressible.

, Paul Thomas Anderson

Imagine taking yourself so seriously that even the most mindless, everyday acts, become an exercise in ritualized precision? What’s unremarkable, like buttoning one’s shirt or combing one’s hair, or dipping asparagus into oil not butter, is performed just so. Sliding into a pair of silk socks first thing is not just sensual, but somehow prideful. Because morning routine, especially for the person plagued by a preternatural need for perfection (and a compulsion for maintaining power) is candy. Isn’t it fun—sometimes—to instill panic in those around you, merely by wanting the things you want, the way you want them, when you want them?

, Luca Guadagnino

In Luca Guadagnino’s , button-ups suit professional life just as much as they are the garb of fantasy. Oliver arrives in his button-up, he falls asleep in his button-up, and he puts a fresh one on his first morning. Button-ups for the confident academic and the languid vacationer, simultaneously. Button-ups for debating the etymology of the word “apricot,” for having your back when revealing road rash low on the hip. For dates with women you don’t love (and for breaking up with them after). Patterned button-ups for pleasing guests, to be changed out of before a midnight rendezvous. Button-ups for saying goodbye. There’s little more pragmatic than a button-up. The button-up is predictable, reliable, utilitarian—it is everything that summer passion is not. In a button-up, you can do both.