Donovan's 2018 Oscar PicksSubmitted by ryandonovan at 2018-02-28 19:50:37 EST
Rating: 1.6 on 16 ratings (22 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
DONOVAN’S OSCAR PROGNOSTICATION 2018
How bad did the Harvey Weinstein scandal get? Well, just wait until Paddington Bear comes forth with his exposé from the making of Paddington 2. (You won't be able to eat marmalade ever again.) So with Harvey out of the picture, what we can we expect at the Academy Awards this year? Read my 19th annual Oscar predictions and find out. And I promise: No Star Wars this year.
Okay, fine. Minimal Star Wars.
SHOULD WIN: Get Out
WILL WIN: The Shape Of Water
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Beauty And The Beast
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: The Big Sick
I feel like I say this most years, but: Man, the Best Picture nominees are a bunch of bummers. How is it possible that the happiest one is Dunkirk, a movie where soldiers are getting violently killed in a seemingly hopeless situation for an hour and half?? The most "fun" thing we can hope for with this group of nominees is the wrong winner to be announced. Again. (Call me pathetic, but the Best Picture debacle at last year's ceremony was one of the best things that's ever happened to me. At least we can agree that it was way better than any of the actual movies.) Intriguingly, this category is the biggest enigma of them all. While the acting races were locked up weeks ago at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, this category is anyone's guess. Most pundits have The Shape Of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in a dead heat, with room for Get Out, Lady Bird, or even Dunkirk to sneak in. Any "expert" who tells you they are confident in their prediction is lying. Except me. I'll confidently say that The Shape Of Water will win. Probably. I think.
Talk about a "fish story"… Writer/director Guillermo del Toro tells a tall tale (tail?) in his amazing fantasy-romance-slash-Cold-War-paranoia-thriller, The Shape Of Water. And he pulls out all the stops (as one does when making a fantasy-romance-slash-Cold-War-paranoia-thriller). In filmmaking, they say you can't have too much genre. del Toro certainly believes that; he also seems to believe you can't have too MANY genres, either. I'm not so sure I necessarily subscribe to either theory; I think there's something to be said for subtlety. But I can't deny that del Toro's approach ultimately pays off: He transports us to an alternate reality where anything is possible and everything is beautiful. And he amps up (or overturns) every conceivable element of the genres he's working in. The result is a gorgeous film and a zippy story, but also some thin characters and clunky clichés. And then, yeah, there's the element of physical love with a fish-dude. If you can get on board with that, you're probably willing to overlook everything else. For me, it all works. Bonus points to del Toro for the title - I realize it seems obtuse, without having much to do with the narrative… but anyone who's seen the film knows how well it ties into the climax. (By the way, is it me, or did the movie remind anyone else of the Kanye West "fish dicks" gag on South Park? Just me…?)
It's probably not going to win, but the best movie of the year is Get Out. It's the only movie where I immediately thought afterward, "I've gotta see that again!" The social aspect of it is sharp, novel, humorous, and accessible. But it's much more than that. I appreciate the fact that it's a horror movie that doesn't rely heavily on gore or gratuitous violence - it's more psychologically troubling than traditionally scary. The film is true to the genre without feeling tired or hackneyed. In particular, it excels at honing in on a legitimate anxiety - meeting your significant other's parents, for example - and plays it out as a terrifying worst-case-scenario. And that's just the tip of the iceberg (or the bottom of the sunken place, as it were.) It cleverly flips a few horror tropes on their heads, wink at the audience, and keep us guessing. The top-flight acting helped, of course. The only gripe: No cameo from Key?
Here's my experience watching Three Billboards in a nutshell: The movie started with Frances McDormand and I was happy, then almost immediately a knot formed in my stomach, and then the knot got worse, then worse, and worse, then there was a chuckle and a moment of relief, then the knot came back, then got agonizingly worse, then worse still, then the movie was over. Ugh. I'm generally up for a sardonic dark comedy, but this is not that; this is revenge porn. Here's what gets me (and I'll speak vaguely so as not to spoil plot points): It's clear (but curiously not really explored) that most of the characters in the fictional (thank god!) town of Ebbing are truly angry with themselves. But they choose to externalize everything (because it's a movie, I guess) and take it out on everyone within arm's reach - even their dearest loved ones. And instead of doing anything constructive or graceful or self-analytical, they make every destructive decision possible. It's like… instead of cutting off your nose to spite your face, you're cutting off the noses of a bunch of other people to spite their faces (or in this case, burning the nose on the face of another person), welcoming the fact that they're going cut off your nose in return… and your ears and eyes (plus the noses of some other people for good measure), so you wind up spiting your face anyway, and you've just pissed off a lot of people and refuse to admit that what you really wanted to do all along was cut off your own nose and spite your own face, so in the end you're left with a bunch of nose-less people who spite each other when they should be simply spiting themselves. (Sorry, this seemed like a good metaphor at one point, but it's quite gone off the rails.) What I'm trying to say is that the film might be a little more palatable if the characters were more… introspective. But as you can tell by the near-unanimous glowing reviews, almost nobody agrees with me. I just can't in good conscience predict this as the Best Picture winner. And the capper for me is the fact that it's not nominated for Best Director, and in 89 years, only 4 films in that situation have taken home the big prize. (Talk Argo all you want, I just don't see it happening again so soon.)
I love Dunkirk… but I WANT to love it more than I actually do. There's so much to admire: the realism, the palpable anxiety and claustrophobia, the exhausting sequences, the scope and precision of the cinematography, the tense score, and most of all, the legitimate feeling of being there - you can practically feel the salt in the air. I'm also impressed by the judicious use of dialogue - it's architected much like a silent film, which really adds to the sense of disorientation. Then there are the handful of things I don't exactly love about it. The storytelling: While I'm usually on board with Christopher Nolan's non-linear timelines, his approach to this seems unnecessary and makes it a little less accessible for me (though I understand why he plots the three stories in the way he did); storytelling is often his strongest suit, but this film tellingly didn't get nominating for Best Screenplay. Tom Hardy's flight mask: "I'm sorry Bane, could you speak up?" And Harry Styles: Enough said. All in all, it's fantastic, but it's not my favorite Nolan film. So when it doesn't win, I won't be too heartbroken.
I'm not quite sure how to feel about Lady Bird. It certainly feels personal, but not terribly personal to me. Surprise, surprise, based on misrepresentative marketing, I expected it to be more quirky-fun than quirky-sour. Even moments that play humorously in the trailer play more mutedly in the film. And I think that's fully intentional on the part of writer/director Greta Gerwig - she clearly has a vision, and it's not intended to give me warm-fuzzies. It's supposed to be bittersweet, sure; but in her story about a teenager breaching adulthood, bitterness is the overwhelming feeling while it's happening - the sweetness is only really in hindsight. That's fine, but if I’m going to go along for the movie version of it, I'd like it to be a little more… entertaining.
SHOULD WIN: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
WILL WIN: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Hugh Jackman (Logan)
This seemed inevitable, didn't it? After years (decades!) of chameleonic performances (and one measly nomination to show for it), Gary Oldman has finally found a role that is a slam dunk for an Oscar, in Darkest Hour. He's so overdue that ordinarily insurmountable obstacles are being rendered inconsequential: Daniel Day-Lewis is also in the race (he's usually - and correctly - the presumptive favorite when he decides to actually make a movie); Winston Churchill is a character that's been played ad nauseum (many revered actors have already portrayed him in award-winning performances, most recently Emmy recipient John Lithgow in The Crown); there's a young up-and-coming nominee grabbing a lot of attention for a star-making performance (though if you ask me, "Timothée Chalamet" sounds more like a vegan bistro in the French Alps than a person - I still can't believe he's American). While it's hard to believe that Oldman has never won an Academy Award, it's even harder to believe that after he wins this year, he'll STILL merely have the same Oscar resume as Casey "I'm not presenting at the ceremony this year because yeah maybe the allegations are true" Affleck.
Phantom Thread is rumored to be famously always-in-character Daniel Day-Lewis's last film ("Thank god!" his beleaguered wife is probably saying). And he's not going to score a record-breaking 4th Oscar for it. Most of his other roles are completely transformative, but in this film he just looks and sounds like… Daniel Day-Lewis. Maybe he should have gone out on top, after Lincoln. Then again, without Day-Lewis's nomination, we'd have to deal with James Franco in this category. So thanks, Daniel, for doing us a solid.
So without Day-Lewis hogging the top roles and collecting accolades for every film he makes, there will be a void in the cinematic landscape. Who should fill it? The mantle should be picked up by preferably a fellow Brit, I suppose, one whose career is just starting, but could be a top talent for years to come. Might I suggest… Daniel Day-Kaluuya? (There's nothing precluding him from changing his middle name to "Day-", is there?) And after arriving in Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya isn't going anywhere.
At this point, what else can be said about Denzel Washington? With Roman J. Israel, Esq., it's another year, and another iconic role. He'll get a 3rd Oscar at some point, but this won't be it.
Hugh Jackman managed to win both my Omitted and Snubbed awards in the same year. A dubious honor indeed. Congratulations, good sir!
SHOULD WIN: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
WILL WIN: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Emma Watson (The Circle / Beauty And The Beast)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick)
Not much to debate here: Frances McDormand is (rightfully) running away in this race, for her role as a vengeful, grieving mother in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In a word, she's a force. McDormand is a commanding actress, and you're willing to go along with her, even when you don't want to, even when you're practically yelling at her in opposition… and if you're not willing, by god, she's going to demand it. Her character is unflinching (except for a few fleeting moments of doubt or empathy), so blinded by sorrow that her only outlet is measured anger, resulting in increasingly calculated and unfocused revenge. The toll of her daughter's rape and unsolved murder has left her so corroded that she literally doesn't care about anyone else, much less herself. She's a stubborn, ornery cuss who's decided to use a sledgehammer on a nail, full well knowing it's going to break a couple of her fingers and really jack up the drywall, because a hammer isn't her style, and goddam it, she's going to drive that nail no matter what. It's a rare performance, one that instantly became the front-runner when it debuted to audiences. In real life, she comes off as awesome, impressive, intimidating, and of course, a total kook. At all the award shows, I've never seen someone look so put-out and irritated to be honored for their work. (Ditto her husband Joel Coen.) The only reason McDormand will lose some votes is because she's already won once (in 1997 for the magnificent Fargo), and a few voters may prefer someone who's been nominated before but never won. Which brings us to…
Saoirse. I dare you to pronounce her name correctly - I dare you! She's only 23, and somehow Saoirse Ronan is already on her third Oscar nomination, for Lady Bird. (Only Jennifer Lawrence has scored 3 noms at a younger age.) It's hard to claim that someone that young is due for a victory, but after she falls short this year, people will be saying that about her. (Except Amy Adams, who will be saying, "Get in line, B.") She's probably the second choice in this race for a lot of people, so some may vote for her to try to spread the gold around a little.
As good as Ronan was, the true runner-up in my book is Sally Hawkins, for The Shape Of Water. In fact, in a lot of other years she'd be my top choice. (And she was my top choice for Supporting Actress in 2015 for Blue Jasmine.) The Shape Of Water is a dazzling (if polarizing) film, and Hawkins is the lynchpin to the entire operation. If you're not willing to go along with her for the ride in the first half of the film (and that first scene in particular, where she, um, takes matters into her own hands), the second half is a total waste of time. It's a tall order (falling in love with a giant fish!), and she pulls it off remarkably. Even when the scenes get uncomfortable, unappealing, or flat-out anatomically impossible, she keeps the audience harnessed and invested. Her character seems invisible (or more literally, silent) to the world, but that masks her true self: assertive, calculating, willful, and sexually aggressive. In a film full of (intentionally, effectively) over-the-top characters and inconceivable happenstance, she manages to ground the film with her underplayed yet emboldened performance. She provides what the film needs most: the reassurance that it's okay to believe in fairy tales.
Are we sure Margot Robbie isn't Jaime Pressly? Frankly, Pressly would have been a more believable choice to play Tonya Harding. On second thought, are we sure Jaime Pressly ISN'T Tonya Harding? While a win would be surprising, it wouldn't be more surprising than Robbie's path to the nomination. If you told anyone a couple years ago that the annoyingly-accented wife in The Wolf Of Wall Street would get nominated for an Oscar for playing Tonya Harding, they would have said you were crazier than… Tonya Harding.
And finally… Let's face it, at this point Meryl Streep is just here for the appetizers.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:
SHOULD WIN: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
WILL WIN: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Harrison Ford (Blade Runner 2049)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Patrick Stewart (Logan)
The only guy in this race without a previous nomination is the one who's clearly going to win it: Sam Rockwell. It's hard to root for a portrayal of such a wretched human being, but it hasn't stopped voters so far: Rockwell has won every significant award leading up to the Oscars, for his vile role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. While he's great in this film (I don't think anyone else here is more deserving), he has the benefit of having a huge amount of screen time for a "supporting" role. But whether he wins the Oscar or not, this is still The Frances McDormand Show.
Christopher Plummer has a chance to break his own record for the oldest Oscar winner for acting, at the ripe young age of 88, for his role as J. Paul Getty in All The Money In The World. (He previously won at 82 for Beginners. And this year's nomination makes him the oldest nominee ever for acting.) Though he had a little help: This nomination is as much for director Ridley Scott (and his cojones) and his decision to excise frequent creep and occasional pedophile Kevin Spacey from the film. Nothing against Plummer, but I can't help but feel like the Academy would have nominated ANYBODY in the role, just to give Spacey the middle finger. Eric Roberts as J. Paul Getty? Sure! Give 'em an Oscar nomination! (Actually, the more I think about Eric Roberts as Getty, the awesomer it sounds.)
Woody Harrelson and Willem Dafoe are interesting inclusions in this race. They both became famous in the 80s for oddly iconic roles (Harrelson as a hayseed bartender, Dafoe as none other than Jesus Christ), have been incredibly prolific since then, have been somewhat typecast (as goofy and creepy, respectively), aren't generally considered "prestige role" actors, and somehow manage to pop up in the Oscar race once in a blue moon. This is the third nomination for each (Harrelson for Three Billboards and Dafoe for The Florida Project), and neither has a particularly strong chance of winning (again). The roles that manage to mix their strengths with something unexpected (and happen to be in critically acclaimed movies) seem to yield the magical golden formula. Though honestly, I'm not sure I'm on board with Harrelson's nomination this year, in this fairly tiny role, especially in light of the other fantastic actors that were passed over (to name a few: Rob Morgan in Mudbound, Bradley Whitford in Get Out, Ray Romano in The Big Sick, Mark Rylance in Dunkirk, Stephen Henderson in Lady Bird, and one more that I'll get to in a minute). He got a big boost from his dynamic chemistry with McDormand, which the film could have used a lot more of. I guess we'll wait and see Harrelson and Dafoe bring to the Oscar table next time, in 10 or 15 years.
Richard Jenkins is actually another guy you don't necessarily expect to show up here, probably because he's strictly considered a character actor, is mostly thought of as the straight man in lowbrow comedies, and wasn't really on the radar until he was in his 50s. He was able to channel those everyman characteristics into the figurative heart (and literal voice) of The Shape Of Water. While this role will forever be a highlight of his career, I'll always remember him for one of the funniest lines from There's Something About Mary: "Highway rest areas, they’re the bath houses of the 90s."
The guy I REALLY wanted to see nominated here was Patrick Stewart, for playing a world famous mutant octogenarian ("Actually, I'm a nonagenarian!"). In Logan, Stewart has an absolute blast as an ancient, senile, powerful X-Man - easily his best Professor X role. In fact, It's one of his best roles, period. He had a realistic shot at an Oscar nomination, raking in a bunch of film critic nominations this year. Unbelievably, it would have been the first Academy Award nom of his career. (A 50-year veteran of TV, stage, and screen, with an incomparable Shakespearean pedigree and a trademark commanding, aristocratic voice, he's scored nominations for just about every other kind of award there is, except the Nobel - and I bet he'll have a shot at that one at some point.) But alas. I guess we'll just have to wait for him to top this in his next role, hopefully as a world famous mutant centenarian.
I really, really want to, but I just can't even with Harrison Ford anymore. (Am I using that right, "just can't even"?)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:
SHOULD WIN: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
WILL WIN: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Allison Williams (Get Out)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Catherine Keener (Get Out)
America may be divided right now, but that's nothing compared to the delicious divisiveness in this category. Never has a fiery chasm between two sworn enemies been so vast and irreparable as it is between Allison Janney and Laurie Metcalf. As everyone knows, they completely hate each other (that's not true, but let's pretend). Their mutual disdain has reached dizzying heights over the past few decades, having competed head-to-head on every smart, wisecracking, mother-figure role that's been cast for TV, cinema, and stage. So before debating the merits of their work (Janney in I, Tonya; Metcalf in Lady Bird), let's indulge in the depth of their bilious feud. Imagine the petty stakes between these two vindictive and venomous veterans (both playing opinionated doyennes whose daughters don't appreciate them): The victor will not only gain pride and satisfaction knowing the soul of the other has been crushed, but will become the clear first choice for every mouthy, meddling matriarch role that comes along for the next dozen or so years. Parallels between them abound: They're close in age, both rose to prominence in long-running critically-acclaimed network TV shows, both have extensive theater backgrounds (Janney has 2 Tony nominations; Metcalf has 4 noms and 1 win), both are award-circuit darlings at the Emmys (Janney: 13 nominations and 7 wins; Metcalf: 10 nominations and 3 wins) and Golden Globes (Janney: 6 nominations and 1 win; Metcalf: 3 nominations). However, the parallel they care about the most? Neither had an Oscar nomination until this year. And they would kill each other (I mean, 'pretend' kill each other) to take home the statuette, preferably while watching the other crumple in agonizing disappointment in the rear view mirror.
So who will emerge victorious, clutching the coveted prize with a heel firmly planted in the loser's windpipe? It's not a sure thing, but all the major precursor awards indicate that it will be Janney. She's a go-to for a lot of prestige films and has been a fixture in Oscar-bait for 20 years, so voters are probably astonished that she's never achieved a nomination before; she simply SEEMS like she's due for an Oscar. Metcalf, on the other hand, doesn't appear in films regularly (and Scream 2 didn't exactly wow the Academy), so voters may feel that her nomination is recognition enough. But a bigger factor will be the showier role: Janney hams it up as a downright diabolical eccentric, while Metcalf plays it straighter as a realistically concerned everywoman. (Ironically, Janney is the one playing a real-life person.) The clincher? The bird on the shoulder. For my pick, it's probably a coin-toss; while I’m ultimately picking Janney, I'm actually rooting for Metcalf. I've gotta be a homer, cheering on the local theater legend (she's a charter member of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre). It helps that Metcalf's husband in Lady Bird is played by Tracy Letts, another Chicago stalwart, Steppenwolf player, and Pulitzer Prize winner to boot. (And one more Lady Bird Chicago reference: The driving instructor is played by - hey! - a guy I saw in a Second City beginner class show about 15 years ago.)
There are, of course, other nominees in this category. Octavia Spencer is great as usual in The Shape Of Water, but she's been more impressive in other roles. Mary J. Blige is a pleasant revelation in Mudbound, but I'm not sure her performance is the one I would single out from that film; Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell, and Carey Mulligan are all just as worthy. (Blige may take home an Oscar regardless - she's also nominated for Best Song from the film.) And Lesley Manville… well, she's also nominated. If any of these women somehow pull an upset and win, then the feud between Janney and Metcalf may finally be put on hold momentarily… so they can team up and bludgeon the winner.
SHOULD WIN: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)
WILL WIN: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049)
After a career of making fantastical cinematic spectacles, Guillermo del Toro is finally getting his due, with The Shape Of Water. It's a story only he could tell, and a story only he WOULD tell. He has a unique talent (among his many) to embrace the things that others would ordinarily ignore or discard. With his point of view, you almost get a sense of kinship, like he feels obligated to tell the (fictional) story as if it was about someone he loved. He unleashes a geyser of big ideas both real and implied, not the least of which is his love of movies. (In a lot of ways, I think this film is his love letter to cinema - where his masterful Pan's Labyrinth could be called a love letter to fairy tales - and all the things that made him want to be a filmmaker.) He likes his symbolism heavy, his production design opulent, his creatures extraordinary, and his protagonists… well, miserable. He works his themes into every scene and every aspect of the film experience: what it means to be whole, to be different, to be silent, and to make sound. And so del Toro will win Best Director, and it will be well deserved. When he wins, it'll be the 4th time in 5 years that this prize goes to a Mexican director (after Cuarón and Alejandro Iñárritu - twice); in fact, the only American-born director to win in the past 7 years was last year's Damien Chazelle for La La Land. (On a side note, speaking of foreign directors, the more of del Toro's films I see, the more he reminds me of Pedro Almodóvar. They seem to share many of the same sensibilities: strong, decisive women, sympathy for what others consider grotesque, a fun-house mirror reflection of the world, a matter-of-factness and tenderness with which they present the outlandish. Most of all, they dare you to believe when everything else tells you not to.)
In my head, I know this is true, but I'm still trying to fathom it: This is the first Best Director nomination for Christopher Nolan (for Dunkirk). After seeing Memento 19 years ago, I assumed by this time he'd have WON at least half a dozen Oscars for Directing and Writing. (I'm still pained by the Memento and Inception snubs.) When Dunkirk stormed into theaters last summer, victory seemed inevitable. But then erosion over time and a visionary fish story knocked him off the podium. So while he won't win, he's still hands-down my pick for Director this year. And let's be honest, my personal endorsement beats a clunky golden bookend any day.
The rest of the nominees are somewhat surprising, for different reasons. Comedian Jordan Peele shocked everyone (in more ways than one) with his horror/satire Get Out, as a first-time director. Similarly, prolific indie darling Greta Gerwig snuck up on Hollywood with her debut, Lady Bird. Both filmmakers clearly collaborate well with actors (both being primarily performers themselves). They are also undoubtedly self-assured, and not unnecessarily showy - they use the camera to tell the story without drawing much attention to the camera itself. While Peele manages to find laughs in the least likely of places, Gerwig reminds us that there is humor (and seriousness and sadness) in just about all places - it all depends on your perspective. The last nominee is Paul Thomas Anderson, for The Phantom Thread - the only one in the category with a previous Directing nomination. He was an afterthought during the entire awards season, and somehow squeezed in instead of folks like Steven Spielberg, Martin McDonagh, Dee Rees, Luca Guadagnino, Patty Jenkins, Ridley Scott, and Joe Wright. He should probably write Daniel Day-Lewis a nice thank-you note for this one.
Aside from Nolan, the person I most wanted to see get nominated was Denis Villeneuve, for Blade Runner 2049. His film is a luscious, consuming, worthy follow-up to the original Blade Runner. The visuals are both consistent with the original and refreshingly contemporary. Each scene isn't directed, it's composed. (Also credit the cinematographer: Roger Deakins is nominated for his 14th time, and he's astoundingly never won.) It's a slow burn, and complements the first film surprisingly well, expanding the story in an organic but unexpected way. And it's every bit as haunting as the first one. A lot of people were spooked by its nearly-three-hour running time, but the length feels earned. I can't say it doesn’t feel long, because it does, but it's enjoyably long (unlike The Lord Of The Rings or, ahem, The Last Jedi). You want to spend time in every scene. You want a master to take his time. Now, give this master the keys to the Star Wars franchise!
Don't feel too bad for Martin McDonagh for being passed over for Best Director for Three Billboards. He's actually already got an Oscar - for Best Short Film in 2006 for a film called Six Shooter. Gee, I wonder if there's any uncomfortable violence in a movie with that name?
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
WILL WIN: Jordan Peele (Get Out)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Steven Rogers (I, Tonya)
What to make of the Original Screenplay category? It's just as befuddling as the Best Picture race. Get Out and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are neck and neck, with Lady Bird also in position for a possible steal. Usually the lead-up awards give an indication, but confoundingly, the script that won the Writers Guild Award (Get Out) wasn't even nominated for the Golden Globe. And the Golden Globe winner (Three Billboards) wasn't nominated for the WGA. (Though that's deceiving: Three Billboards was not eligible for the WGA because it didn't conform to all the Writers Guild standards; its omission probably won't impact its Oscar chances.) Who in the world will sort out this madness and provide a beacon of hope?? Thank goodness I'm here. Most people will tell you that Three Billboards will win. Most people are idiots. In an upset, it will be Get Out.
I also happen to think Get Out (by Jordan Peele) is the most deserving entry in this category. And frankly, this is the film's best shot at taking home a trophy. Despite all the buzz, it's still hard for people to believe that it's written by one of the minds behind the Key & Peele sketches, because the show wasn't exactly known for, you know, mind-bending horror-thrills. But it's not surprising that he brings a unique sense of humor and satire (not to mention social commentary) to it that, say, Eli Roth wouldn't. It's clear from his script that he has the point of view of someone who loves, and is probably a little tired of, horror movies. It's a sign of a clever and air-tight script that the film demands multiple viewings, and that the set-ups play and pay off in a completely different yet satisfying way the second time around.
I'm fairly conflicted about Martin McDonagh's screenplay for Three Billboards. While the film was grueling, I have to say, the man can write scenes. His background is in theater, and it shows. The screenplay stands apart in its excellent execution (pun sort-of intended), regardless of your opinion of the ending or the tone. He clearly understands that EVERY SINGLE SCENE in a drama should be all dramatic conflict and nothing else. It's a great example for novice screenwriters (and even some experienced ones). The scene starts when the conflict starts, and ends when the conflict ends… or often even before that. (And notice I said when the conflict "ends", not when the conflict "resolves"; the conflict "resolves" when the movie is over.) McDonagh even pulls this off when it's just Frances McDormand talking to a wandering deer, or alone imagining a conversation between her bunny slippers. As for theme? I'm not so sure I can commend him as much on that one. Thematic elements are obviously up to interpretation by the audience (that's kind of the point), but I don't really know what to take away from this. I have a few suspicions of what McDonagh was trying to say, but they're either muddy (to which he'd respond, "Good!") or they're enraging (to which he'd probably also respond, "Good!") or they're irredeemably charred, dredged from the depths of a soulless abyss (and frankly, I think he'd be okay with that as well).
Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon's screenplay for The Big Sick is my second-favorite this year behind Get Out, so I was thrilled to see it get a nomination here. (I would have liked to see it get a Best Picture nod too, but I'll get over it.) This kind of film seems to be my style (these days, anyway, as I get older) - at least how to make tragedy palatable: with a healthy blend of humor. (50/50 is another recent example.) Maybe that means I've gotten soft, that I like my drama safe and my comedy harmless. Or maybe I just don't want to feel like I've been drinking warm sewage for two hours at the end of a movie.
I'll be honest, I didn't have a strong personal connection with Lady Bird, so I didn't come away with much from it. The screenplay feels true, and seems to be trying to say something without shouting a message, which I can appreciate. I probably see the film more from the parent's perspective than the teenager's perspective. So to me, it basically says that children never really know how much their parents love them, in part because parents aren't really able to articulate it in a way that children (especially teenagers) can truly understand. And frankly, it also says that children are eternally ungrateful to their parents… except when they make unexpected declarations at the end of Hollywood movies. Little brats.
Though it's got a strong shot to win two of the biggest awards, The Shape Of Water won't be a factor here. Of all its wonders, its screenplay is considered the least dazzling. It's meant to feel like a film from 50 years ago, so the screenplay is intentionally structured in a fairly simple way, with several one-dimensional characters and straightforward dialogue. It's a fable, really, so it's executed as such. It's got some significant plot holes (but in light of the fact that it's a "dating a fish" story, they're pretty minor), the creature gets very little backstory (which is just as well - any attempt to explain it would demystify the story and be a flat waste of time), and the lessons are heavy-handed. Everybody (good, evil, or otherwise) is "less than whole" in some way, whether it's in how they perceive themselves, or in how they are perceived by others. The one that can make them whole (physically or metaphorically) is the one who fits in the least: the fish-man, the proverbial "missing link". (Except for the poor cat. The fish-man makes the cat… decidedly less than whole.)
No, that's not a typo. I put Star Wars: The Last Jedi as my Gloriously Omitted choice. What was wrong with the Canto Bight detour? Well, how much time do you have? I could rant about it for 30 minutes, the same amount of time squandered on that throwaway sequence. What a waste of time. As for the rest of the screenplay… mostly, as a fan of Rian Johnson's other work (like Looper), I expected… more. I really thought he'd have something cool up his sleeve, whether it was a twist or an unexpected structure. New "magical" Force tricks didn't really cut it for me. Filmmaker Werner Herzog once said, "Manoeuvre and mislead, but always deliver." Johnson forgot to heed the second half of that advice. (I am willing, however, to give Johnson extra credit for his Hardware Wars reference - an Easter Egg intended for probably only 1% of even the biggest Start Wars fans.)
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
SHOULD WIN: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
WILL WIN: James Ivory (Call Me By Your Name)
GLORIOUSLY OMITTED: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos (Beauty And The Beast)
INGLORIOUSLY SNUBBED: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049)
The Adapted category takes a bit of a back seat to its Original counterpart this year. Only one of the nominees is in contention for Best Picture (as opposed to all 5 in the Original category), and none of the nominees got a Best Director nod (compared to 3 in the other category). The result is a somewhat surprising and unconventional (if arguably weaker) crop of nominees.
As the only Best Picture nominee and the winner of the Writers Guild Award, Call Me By Your Name is the clear front-runner. It's also the sentimental favorite: It's written by 89-year-old James Ivory (he of the esteemed Merchant-Ivory brand), who's been nominated for 3 previous Oscars but has never won. It would make him the oldest non-honorary winner ever. The films of Merchant-Ivory Productions, a period-piece powerhouse in the 80s and 90s, have achieved 6 Oscar wins and countless nominations (like A Room With A View, Howard's End, The Remains Of The Day, and a bunch of other films you've heard are good but have never seen… you heathen), typically directed by Ivory, and produced by Ismail Merchant. (The Wikipedia description of the company is both accurate and hilarious: "A typical 'Merchant-Ivory film' would be a period piece set in the early 20th century, usually in Edwardian England, featuring lavish sets and top British actors portraying genteel characters who suffer from disillusionment and tragic entanglements.") Merchant died in 2005, and Ivory has been mostly inactive since then. So a win here would be seen by many admiring voters as a fitting coda for one of the underappreciated auteurs of his generation.
I was thisclose to calling Logan my Should Win. For those of you who are not paying attention (or who are not as dorky as I am), it's another X-Men movie (astonishingly, the 10th in the franchise). Logan is Wolverine. Wolverine is Hugh Jackman. Hugh Jackman is… if you don't know, I guess I can't help you. The writers (including director James Mangold) took a risk and made a gritty, nihilistic, R-rated version of a comic book (yeah, it's a Marvel superhero movie - relax), and it paid off. The result is perhaps the best X-Men film yet, one that is faithful and irreverent at the same time, and feels more like a drama than a comic flick. It's redefined what's possible with these kind of films. Expect it a usher in a new era of superhero movies. (Except for D.C. You guys keep making absurd Batmans Vs. Supermans. Morons.)
Mudbound incorporates all the fun elements of a classic feel-good movie: Alcoholism, rape, miscarriage, murder, racism, hardship, violent war death, familial strife, affairs, incest, extreme PTSD, unexpected pregnancies, broken limbs, filth, domestic abuse, fist fights, flooding, loveless marriage, abject poverty, childhood illness, grave digging, animal slaughter, mutilation… and that's all before the KKK shows up! I'm not quite sure what to say about Mudbound, as a film overall, or as a screenplay nominee. To call the film "challenging" is an understatement. As an experience, it's downright punishing. It's also extraordinarily beautiful, especially considering the dismal, impoverished environment in which the film is set. Cinematography (by Rachel Morrison) is probably its most deserving nomination, and it may well beat out several renown DPs in that category. I'm impressed by the screenplay (by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams), even if I don't have the stomach for its subject matter. It's unflinching and elegiac, haunting and inspiring. It features dialogue and narration (which is usually a strike against in my book) that is poetic and mollifying. But unfortunately, it also features about 2 hours of misery and only about 10 seconds of happiness.
As you've probably heard by now, The Disaster Artist is the (realistic?) portrayal of the making of reputedly the worst movie of all time, The Room. I’m pretty sure James Franco, on the heels of his Golden Globe victory, was expecting 3 Oscar nominations for his triple-threat work on the film: Actor, Director, and Best Picture. But, poor chap, the one he ended up with was the one he doesn't actually get credit for: Screenplay. (It was written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the writing team behind seemingly every annoying, angsty teen coming-of-age movie from the past 5 years.) I can't decide if The Disaster Artist's endeavor is genius or crazy or simply overindulgent. (Franco himself is usually categorized as all three.) I mean, the original movie is not good. And it's not bad in an awesome way, either, despite its reputation to the contrary. If it hadn't become a cult classic among an influential clique of comedians and actors (i.e., Franco's pals - many of whom have small parts in the film), nobody would pay it a second's attention, the behind-the-scenes book would be a footnote, and this film would never have reason to exist. But it does. And now - good god - The Room is actually an Oscar nominee. I guess there's hope for us all.
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