I love Oscar season. Each year is fascinating for different reasons. While genuinely good work gets recognized (and some good and great work gets ignored), the other factors that figure into the nominations, and then the final awards, change each year. The common other factors are an unhealthy sense of self-congratulation, a desire to make up for past oversights, and an aspiration to position themselves as correct, or caring, or aware, or a combination thereof. The percentage of the ingredients is what fluctuates from year to year.
This year, there is a recognition of good work, an avoidance of uncomfortable situations, and a desire to use the nominations to make amends for 100 years of sexual harassment and abuse in the industry. As if….
But let’s take a look at the categories:
Good ones. Get Out is wildly original, a rather breathtaking first directorial effort, and the kind of social statement that is surprising enough to get attention and not vicious enough to get the wrong kind. This is a sign of the academy growing and expanding.
Wonder Woman and The Big Sick could have been in the mix here, perhaps with the loss of Darkest Hour. The rest look like they belong there, though Phantom Thread is a surprise, considering its art-house sangfroid.
The Shape of Water is a lovingly crafted film and the most overrated of the year. And Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has great performances, and is something of a structural mess. And The Post is solid and workmanlike with one great performance and several good ones.
Finally! Christopher Nolan gets a nomination, and a well-deserved one, for Dunkirk. Newbies Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) are nominated partly as recognition for their excellent work, and a nod to talented first timers that show some new pathways for mainstream films. Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) is a bit of a surprise for the same reasons as above.
No Spielberg? Perhaps because The Post is good but not great, or because he’s been awarded enough, and this year is about a younger crowd.
This one is interesting. It’s likely Gary Oldman’s year for a powerhouse performance as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Daniel Kaluuya was very good in Get Out, and his nomination is part of the respect shown to that film and its director Jordan Peele. Denzel Washington has James Franco’s apparent past sexual indiscretions to thank for his nomination for Roman J. Israel, Esq. To be honest, it’s easy to vote for talented and likable actors such as Washington and Streep; it’s just not always correct. Six months ago, Franco would have been a shoo-in for The Disaster Artist, for which he just won the Best Actor/Comedy Golden Globe Award, as well as several other critics groups awards.
And of course, Jake Gyllenhall gets ignored again. But his continually being overlooked will help him the next time he puts out a great performance in a year when the Oscar isn’t “owed” to someone else. He’s the male Amy Adams with fewer nominations.
As in recent years, a strong category. It’s pretty much decided that Frances McDormand will win for her blistering performance in Three Billboards. Saoirse Ronan is proving herself the budding great actress we thought she was with Lady Bird, but apparently her time hasn’t come. (I wish she’d won for Brooklyn.) Margo Robbie (I, Tonya) has successfully proven herself a serious actress and has moved past the fact that she is stunningly beautiful. Streep, like Judi Dench, is always so good that she is often taken for granted. Yes, it seems overdone to grant her another award-breaking nomination, but it’s deserved, too.
Other considerations: In terms of neither drama nor comedy, who else could have done what Gal Gadot did in Wonder Woman? Seriously—who else could have pulled this role off with such success? But that’s just a superhero movie, so it doesn’t count (please hear the irony and slight sarcasm). Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, and the production design were the best parts of The Shape of Water, but the nominations are the rewards here (except for perhaps production design).
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Another strong category, with nary a weak one. I haven’t seen All the Money in the World, but it seems as if Christopher Plummer’s nomination for his quick replacement work for the disgraced Kevin Spacey is the reason for the nomination. I seriously doubt it would be in that group without Ridley Scott’s near-miraculous work in re-gathering the cast, shooting quickly, and re-editing the film. But Plummer won’t win anyway. It will likely be Sam Rockwell, both for his performance in Three Billboards (he’s McDormand’s equal) and for his having been under-recognized but appreciated nonetheless all these years—the curse of the actor’s actor at times.
I was glad to see Woody Harrelson in the mix for Three Billboards, but I hope he and Rockwell don’t split the vote.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This is Allison Janney’s year for the showiest of the great performances here. She’s a highly respected actress and has won every other major award here. She is the J.K. Simmons of this year’s awards. But it was good to see Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), whom I expected in the lineup, and especially Leslie Manville for her excellent work in Phantom Thread, on which much of the film rests.
Octavia Spencer. Oy. She is a talented actress, and a delightful screen presence. But this is her third nomination for essentially the same role. Enough said….sigh…. Mary J. Blige’s nomination for Mudbound is her reward, but is significant beyond her coming from music to film. The film itself is considered an independent and not the normal “contender,” though the categories have been breaking down for years.
Speaking of Mudbound, it receives the first nomination for cinematography for a woman, Rachel Morrison—another significant moment. Though the nominations for all the films are well deserved, I personally hope that Roger Deakin’s work in Blade Runner 2049 finally brings him a long-delayed and most definitely deserved award.
Production design was a strong element in all the nominated films. Darkest Hour deserves a nomination, as does Dunkirk. Production design may have been the single strongest element of The Shape of Water outside the performances, but Blade Runner 2049 was extraordinary, and it is hoped that the film’s underwhelming financial performance in the States won’t diminish its chances.
WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
Both James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name) and Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game) have high name recognition going for them. But this category also contains another nomination for Mudbound, plus a perhaps surprising one for Logan, certainly an anomaly in the fantasy superhero category.
WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
So very glad The Big Sick—the best romantic comedy in 20 years—received its well-deserved nomination. Also happy that Lady Bird and Get Out, two of the freshest screenplays in years, got some attention here. Still not in love with The Shape of Water or Three Billboards here, however.
Watching the ups and downs of certain films is fun as critics and others look at the various “other factors” that make up the awards other than quality. The nominations are one thing, and include attempts to right the world and atone for previous sins of omission. Sometimes they actually promote some of the best work of the year. We’ll see which factors dominate in March.