Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

04 February 2018

Oscar Nominations 2018: Part 1 of 12

Oscar nominations are here! Actually, they came out last week.

Every year I post about each of the films nominated for Oscars (this year there are 39 + 10 short films). I see all of them except for the documentaries (I am just not that interested in documentary film; I'm not sure why).

As always, a large number of the films in my own top 10 for the year were passed over (A Ghost Story, Frantz, Lady Macbeth, Raw), but some of them scored a nomination or two (Coco, The Square, Loveless), and three were nominated for Best Picture (Dunkirk, Phantom Thread, Call Me by Your Name). In other words, as there is every year, there is a lot for me to appreciate here, even if I am more impatient with the Academy's choices this year than usual.

My main complaint – and I am sure this will come up in my commentary in the following weeks – is that Academy voters (and guild voters, too) just don't see enough movies, especially films from other countries. A slate of nominees like the International Cinephile Society's list for 2018 is way better than the one that Oscar made. And I honestly think it's just that the voters in the ICS just see more movies. But I am done expecting the Academy to vote for really really good stuff. They will always skew toward the mediocre, I think. And that is just how it goes.

As usual with these posts, I will go film by film discussing each movie individually rather than discussing categories, beginning with the movies most beloved by the Academy this year. If the nominee has been nominated for Oscars previously, he or she will be listed next to his/her name in parentheses).

This year's nominees:

The Shape of Water
13 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Guillermo del Toro
  • Actress: Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
  • Original Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro (El Laberinto del Fauno (Pan's Labyrinth)) & Vanessa Taylor
  • Supporting Actor: Richard Jenkins (The Visitor)
  • Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help)
  • Film Editing: Sidney Wolinsky
  • Cinematography: Dan Laustsen
  • Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry & Jeff Melvin & Shane Vieau
  • Score: Alexandre Desplat (The Imitation Game, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Philomena, Argo, The King's Speech, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Queen)
  • Costume Design: Luis Sequeira
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Del Toro
Cast: Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones, Jenkins, Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Nick Searcy, David Hewlett, Martin Roach, Morgan Kelly, Nigel Bennett

Well this is obviously the frontrunner, and I think everyone expected that it would be the frontrunner. In many ways, I have to concur with a large number of these nominations; as I said in my own review of this, for me, the design elements – the score, the production design, the costumes, the cinematography – took over the film, turning what might have been a Del Toro picture into something other than the monster movie I wanted it to be. (I love monster movies. Why can't this be one?) At first I was sort of annoyed that this got so many nominations, but looking at the list above, what you can see is that almost all of the nominees are first-time nominees. This makes me think of The Shape of Water as a little bit of an underdog, and it makes me happy for everyone nominated. No matter, everyone loves this movie, and it is going to take home its share of little gold dudes on the first Sunday of March. But not too many.
Will Win: Picture, Director, Production Design
Could Win: Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Cinematography, Score, Costume Design
My Rating: #32 out of 76

Dunkirk
8 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Film Editing: Lee Smith (The Dark Knight, Master and Commander: the Far Side of the World)
  • Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
  • Production Design: Nathan Crowley (Interstellar, The Dark Knight, The Prestige) & Gary Fettis (Interstellar, Changeling, The Godfather: Part III)
  • Score: Hans Zimmer (Interstellar, Inception, Sherlock Holmes, Gladiator, The Thin Red Line, The Prince of Egypt, As Good as It Gets, The Preacher's Wife, The Lion King, Rain Man)
  • Sound Mixing
  • Sound Editing
Director: Nolan
Cast: Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Barry Keoghan, Damien Bonnard, Jack Lowden, Kenneth Branagh, James D'Arcy

I loved this movie. I do not normally care for Christopher Nolan movies – I tend to find them soulless and machine-like – but this film always chooses people over strategy, and I can't say enough good things about it. In the first place, Dunkirk is a gorgeous technical achievement. It follows three plots at three different time schemes (it wouldn't be a Nolan movie without a puzzle), and each of these plots is emotionally wrenching, powerful stuff. I was especially moved by the sequences in the boat with Mark Rylance, but each of the plots is great and each allows us to look differently at the others. What is especially wonderful about this film is the way that it gives us the story of Dunkirk from the perspective of those who lived through it on the mole (and in the air, and in the water). Darkest Hour, for example, gives us a story of Churchill and the political and military moves that Dunkirk represented for the British. But Dunkirk isn't interested in backroom politics or Hitler or even what the war might mean for the world. This film focuses on what it means to the young men who fought and lost their lives. It's deeply moving and it is, I think, Nolan's best film to date. I hope he keeps making movies like this one. The Academy does not usually like Nolan, and his nomination is a little bit of a surprise here. Expect Dunkirk to win in lots of technical categories.
Will Win: Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing
Could Win: Cinematography
My Rating: #4 out of 76

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
7 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Actress: Frances McDormand (North Country, Almost Famous, Fargo, Mississippi Burning)
  • Original Screenplay: Martin McDonagh (In Bruges)
  • Supporting Actor: Woody Harrelson (The Messenger, The People vs. Larry Flynt)
  • Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell
  • Film Editing: Jon Gregory
  • Score: Carter Burwell (Carol)
Director: McDonagh
Cast: McDormand, Harrelson, Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry-Jones, Sandy Martin, Samara Weaving, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek, Amanda Warren

Well, this was the frontrunner for a while – the surprise frontrunner – and so it has gotten its share of backlash. I honestly can't fault too much of this backlash; the film is a very strange movie, and in its sentimentality, it throws forgiveness around a bit too easily perhaps. I really liked it on its own terms – I even liked it more than Shape of Water – but, then, I don't normally like McDonagh's work, so I am probably not liking it for the same reasons McDonagh fans like it. I guess the question now is: Can Three Billboards sustain its momentum through the end of February and pick up a ton of awards? This seems likely to a point. I expect it to win the two acting awards it has been winning (McDormand and Rockwell), and it managed to get a nomination from the film editors, too (seriously, guys???), but a lack of a Best Director nomination for McDonagh here (he didn't deserve one) seems to indicate that at least one branch of the Academy would rather give their top prize to Get Out or Lady Bird or Phantom Thread than to Three Billboards. Can't say I blame them.
Will Win: Actress, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor
Could Win: Picture
My Rating: #25 out of 76

Phantom Thread
6 Nominations
  • Picture
  • Director: Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)
  • Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot)
  • Supporting Actress: Lesley Manville
  • Score: Jonny Greenwood 
  • Costume Design: Mark Bridges (Inherent Vice, The Artist)
Director: Anderson
Cast: Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Manville, Gina McKee, Brian Gleeson, Jane Perry, Harriet Sansom Harris

Love love love! And what a surprise that this got six nominations! I don't think anyone was expecting this, especially that Best Director nod. It is well deserved, and I am delighted that this has happened. This is one of my favorite films of the year. It's strange and creepy and a little bit sick, but it's also about the unicity of a particular relationship – how it might work to love someone who is very, very difficult. It's gorgeously made, of course, as PTA's films usually are. This is a film much closer in spirit to The Master and There Will Be Blood than to Inherent Vice or Boogie Nights. Other important surprises: the music branch finally nominated Jonny Greenwood for original score. His score for Phantom Thread is the most beautiful he has yet conceived: it's lush and beautiful and haunting and rich, and I've been listening to it for weeks. I think it is the best score of the year, and I also think it will win. Can Mark Bridges also win? That seems possible. The costumes here are high couture, and the Academy has had a preference for that lately. Perhaps the biggest, most welcome, surprise, though, is the nomination for Lesley Manville, who is a standout as Day-Lewis's sister. She was passed over for a nomination a couple years ago for the Mike Leigh film Another Year (the Academy ought to be embarrassed – and they ought to see more movies), but this is some kind of redemption. I will be happy with any and every Oscar this film takes home.
Will Win: Score, Costume Design
Could Win: Supporting Actress
My Rating: #8 out of 76