On the eve of the 90th Academy Awards, Darragh Leen peers inside the envelope for some Oscar merit, clues, and predictions.
There’s a bulky nine nominees in the Best Picture category for Sunday’s Academy Awards, but even with that, there’s a sliver of disappointment that some quality projects got left on the cutting room floor. Imagine Sean Baker’s sophomore attempt, ‘The Florida Project’, the utterly sui generis mockumentary-style feature that is ‘I, Tonya’ or the lived-by-me, told-by-me unconventional rom-com ‘The Big Sick’ had made the no-longer shortlist? Hence the diversity of opinion and betting on the prospective winners Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre.
The last time there was a Best Picture race that extended beyond the realm of two-horse race was in 2012 when Argo shocked the industry by taking home Oscar (without a best director nomination, something seldom achieved at the Academy awards). The 90th ceremony boasts no less than half a dozen proper contenders for best picture. My favourite nominated film of 2017 is indie darling Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut ‘Lady Bird’, an almost flawlessly written, acted and directed ditty that is a looking glass into the life of a Sacramento ingenue who yearns to escape a boring California life and open a new leaf on the east coast.
Her relationship with her mother, played to perfection by the criminally underused Laurie Metcalf, is constantly tested and the scenes between both Bray’s Saoirse Ronan and Metcalf are some of the most authentic I’ve savoured.
However, one would be hard pressed to rule out Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri (receiving some awards season backlash of late), Get Out, The Shape of Water which prides itself in being Del Toro’s ode to cinema, Dunkirk and the summer romance flic Call Me By Your Name.
Notwithstanding the vagaries of the Academy, here’s an insight into the red-carpet tittle-tattle that goes on before an envelope’s opened….
And the nominees are…: Get Out, Lady Bird, The Big Sick, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
A paradigm of kinetic and fluid film-making, those collaborating on Lady Bird might have been working pro bono, for the sake of artistic verisimilitude and not a paycheck or IMDb credit. Gerwig’s heart and soul is unmistakable on the screen with every passing frame. West coast America it may be, but it’s relatable in its emotions and its characters’ awkward ramifications. Trite-free, fresh, bubbling with charisma and personality, this is also one of the most human films of the year. Excruciatingly true one might say. Surely the Academy won’t want to let Lady Bird go home empty-handed and with Shape of Water shaping up (apols) to be the big winner there might be less sympathy for Guillermo Del Toro in the directorial category, making room for a certain African-American to claim that statuette. With this twist of fate Lady Bird would now seem like the fairest pick in the category.
Need another reason to choose Lady Bird as Best Original Screenplay? The last time a female screenwriter won an Oscar was 2007 when Diablo Cody took it home for the equally whip-smart Juno. That’s one fat decade ago, nothing to be proud of especially in the context of #metoo/timesup campaigns.
Lady Bird identifies primarily as a female heavy picture more so than the love stories of Shape of Water and The Big Sick. Rife with smart quips and witticisms, attentive period detail and heartbreaking true-to-life meditations, this is my petition for Lady Bird to win best original screenplay.
And the nominees are: Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Phantom Thread, Dunkirk, Get Out, The Shape of Water, Lady Bird, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Back in 2006, Guillermo Del Toro released his magnum opus to the world, Pan’s Labyrinth – which I still believe to be his greatest achievement to date. Not since has he gained the same love from the academy; so the 13 nominations that came along with Del Toro’s latest effort were welcome, to say the least. Who knows, Guillermo may never get a better chance at winning big at the Oscars, yet, despite the concerns I have that Guillermo will walk away empty-handed, it’s comforting to soak up the two hours of this watery, teal-tinged fantasy and know that everything visible up on that screen is pure Guillermo. It’s the most Guillermo Del Toro of all his films and that’s a good thing. From press junkets to one-on-ones, while promoting his film, you can see the pride and emotion behind every utterance of the film’s many moving clogs.
These ‘moving clogs’ happen to be everything from the mesmerising Sally Hawkins’ unrestrictedly emotive performance to the flawless support she has on all sides; from Richard Jenkins to Octavia Spencer and the two Michaels [Shannon and Stuhlbarg] who are two of the best supporting actors in the business at this moment. The film’s delectable aesthetic, filled to the brim with green and blue hues, is another treat in Del Toro’s fantastical candy box. Front and centre though are the unexpected double act of Hawkins’ mute janitor Eliza and Doug Jones amphibi-man.. Yes, we’ve heard it a million times already since the film’s release: “How could this work? A mute falls in love with a fishman who’s essentially a cross between Abe Sapien from the Hellboy films and The Creature from the Black Lagoon!”. The absurdity of the premise is an even greater testament to Del Toro and crew, that they managed somehow to make us believe in this fantasy. Much like Damien Chazelle’s La La Land last year, this is Del Toro’s ode to cinema itself and putting its manifest merits to one side momentarily, we know the Academy geeks out at ‘ode to the craft’ type of movies.
Without stating outright that this will be the reason Shape of Water takes best picture, it certainly won’t hinder its chances. With impeccable performances, exquisite visuals and a strong love story as the focus this may be the cinematic panacea we need right now and the deserved Best Picture for 2017.
And the nominees are: Sally Hawkins for Shape of Water, Margot Robbie for I, Tonya, Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird, Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Meryl Streep for The Post
No one can deny Frances McDormand’s powerful performance as a grieving, out-for-blood mother was one of the year’s standouts. With a trudge like John Wayne and a mouth like a sewer, McDormand commanded every scene she graced. Her heroine also acts as a poster girl for current times. But for all that, her supporting players Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson outshone her.
The same can’t be said about Ms. Hawkins, wordless for the entirety (almost) of the film yet maintaining enough character to still be the most emotive person on screen. Her performance is revolutionary, heart-breaking and if I hadn’t already fallen head over heels for her after the Paddington movies then this was the cherry on top. Her speechless virtuosity left me likewise. If we want to materialise metaphors, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that Eliza represents a generation of women who couldn’t speak up in Hollywood and eventually find a voice when they find the support and love they need to do so, becoming comfortable in a new world and free to express what they haven’t been able to previously. Hidden meanings and subtext aside, Del Toro’s baby is better served for Hawkins’ fearless and elegant display.
And the nominees are: Guillermo Del Toro for The Shape of Water, Jordan Peele for Get Out, Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird, Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread, Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk
Last year Moonlight director Barry Jenkins lost out on becoming the first African-American to win the Academy Award for Best Director. This year that chance arises again as one half of the comedy duo Key and Peele is nominated for Get Out.
Whether Jordan Peele make Oscar history tonight depends on a few extraneous factors. Maybe Peele will have to sacrifice Original Screenplay to take home the second biggest prize. It also means Guillermo Del Toro will have to lose that same category - which many see him as a lock for – and the Academy like to make statements of sorts. Three of the last four best director gongs have gone to Mexicans - Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity and Alejandro G. Inarritu for Birdman and The Revenant.
This means the Academy might just pull the diversity card. By giving best picture to The Shape of Water, Guillermo still gets his Oscar and as previously mentioned we could see Greta Gerwig take the award for Original Screenplay. Everyone’s happy! If only…
And the nominees are: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour, Denzel Washington for Roman Israel, Esq., Timothee Chalamet for Call Me By Your Name, Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out, Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread
In Italy in 1983 Elio, a young, viral and ultimately bored teenager of lean stature passes the time by honing his piano playing skills, reading avidly and fooling around with the local denizen’s daughters. His life is comfortable yet uneventful, opulent yet empty. That is until Oliver arrives, a strapping archaeological companion of Elio’s father. This is when Elio’s life begins to change dramatically.
In the role of Elio is, current It boy, Timothee Chalamet. After sitting through Luca Guadagnino’s two-hour sun-drenched romance I was dumbfounded by the raw talent and on-screen confidence of this young actor. Rich in scenes of whimsical flirtations and voracious intimacy, Chalamet holds his own against his co-star Armie Hammer. He invites you into his own private and turbulent ruminations and brings the character of Elio to life by the most impressively natural actions and knacks. A pure joy to watch, knowing the naivety of both Chalamet and Elio, we’ve all been taken aback by the effortless charm and finesse of the actor himself. A revelation.
Nonetheless, those keeping tabs on Oscar intrigue will know that at this time of the season, there’s no gainsaying the long overdue Gary Oldman for his turn as controversial former PM Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour. Cue standing ovation when he finally goes up to receive what might soon have been a Lifetime Achievement Award.
It’s nominated for: Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Visual Effects
After being inexplicably ignored by the Academy in some of the more prestigious categories, it might soften the blow for Dennis Villeneuve and his crew of master builders to pick up some well-earned tech awards. If Roger Deakins isn’t recognised for his ingenious cinematography, the Academy should be embarrassed. With his 14th nomination (and 0-13 so far) this is surely the year Deakins takes Oscar home. As for the other categories where Villeneuve’s masterpiece has a shot; sound mixing and sound editing, which were both abnormally recognisable in the IMAX theatre. Dunkirk is the competition here – another essential IMAX experience.
Production Design could go the way of 2049 or Shape of Water and Visual Effects is a toss-up between the afore-mentioned duo and the final instalment in the updated Planet of The Apes trilogy. The Academy may feel the need to reward the latter, given it has set a standard for motion capture filmmaking from this day forth
And the nominees are: Dunkirk, Baby Driver, I, Tonya, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Shape of Water
Edgar Wright is commonly referred to as one of - if not the - most exciting talent in Hollywood, but there’s been no such recognition from the Academy. This might be the weekend this changes and they acknowledge Wright’s adroitness as a filmmaker. The duo of Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos are the men behind the breakneck editing. Their dexterity lends a synchronised, poppy, snip-snap, bing-bang-boom type of energy to the film and the finished product is better off for it. The rigorous process of matching up bullets with beats and car sounds with choruses gives me reason enough to think this flick should be getting more love.
Dunkirk’s pacing is slower, quieter, more intense and subsequently the editing of the film is in tandem with this mood. Dunkirk’s juxtaposition, however, is more of a narrative juxtaposition. It knits together the three milieu of land, sea and air attributing different periods of time – an hour, a day and a week – to each. Lee Smith ties all three together nicely but it’s the pure energy and respect for Edgar Wright’s style in Machliss and Amos’ efforts that should result in a statuette.
And the nominees are: Alexandre Desplat for The Shape of Water
John Williams for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread
Hans Zimmer for Dunkirk
Carter Burwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Remember Jonny Greenwood from famous British rock band Radiohead? Or from the credits of multiple Paul Thomas Anderson films? To recognise both is to recognise ingenuity. Back in 2007, Greenwood collaborated with Anderson for the first time on his masterpiece There Will Be Blood, but the score wasn’t eligible for the Academy Awards as he utilised pieces from other classical works (e.g he used Fratres by Arvo Part). That means this is Greenwood’s first Oscar nomination, one long overdue. I believe he should win it. All the talk in this category seems to be directed towards Alexandre Desplat, a composer of almost equal calibre (he has already won an Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel), yet what sets Greenwood’s album above is its centrality to the story unfolding in Phantom Thread.
Greenwood’s powerful piano and violin lends a fairy tale element to Anderson’s tale of toxic love and it also happens to be one of the most memorable scores in recent memory. With each carefully chosen key note and each perfunctory pluck of a chord, Greenwood (like the eponymous purist played by Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread) crafts his symphonies like the master he is.
It’s time for this artist to gain true appreciation.