Horrors! Oscar Gives Well-Deserved Attention To Genre Films
Academy Awards work toward improving their record on diversity
The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning and for the first time in many years, I actually agree with many of the films that have been recognized.
Fox Searchlight scored big for being smart enough, or lucky enough, to have released both Guillermo del Toro's “Shape of Water” (13 nominations) and Martin McDonagh's “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (seven nominations). Both movies were nominated for best picture, lead actress, supporting actor, original screenplay, editing and original score.
The Academy dodged another year of #OscarSoWhite and so white straight male by recognizing films such as "Get Out," "Mudbound," "Roman J. Israel, Esq" (that was a surprise but well-earned nod for Denzel Washington), "Call Me By Your Name" and "Lady Bird."
What was exciting for me was to see that the effort to acknowledge diversity also extended to recognizing a diversity of film genres. Oscars are often reserved for serious dramas (think past winners like "Spotlight," "12 Years a Slave," "Million Dollar Baby," "Gandhi," "Ben Hur") and only occasionally takes the time to recognize genre excellence in categories such as horror ("The Silence of the Lambs"), fantasy ("Lord of the Rings: Return of the King"), or western ("Unforgiven"). And to double my joy, the genre highlighted this year was horror and the films represented diversity behind and in front of the camera.
Del Toro's "Shape of Water" has a Mexican helmer telling the story of an amphibious man (truly representing the "other") and features a female lead that is mute (representing another minority of screen characters), her African American (racial diversity) friend, and her older (age diversity) and perhaps closeted gay neighbor. The film had the trappings of a fairy tale but gave a twist to what is usually the passive heroine and turned her into the catalyst for everything in the film. She does not need rescuing but rather engineers the rescue of her "Prince Charming."
Del Toro's film is a nod to classic Hollywood horror cinema of the past (in particular "Creature from the Black Lagoon") and he comes up with his own twist on the Hollywood happy ending. He manages to make a film that is absolutely a tribute to old-school Hollywood but with a new set of values that recognizes diversity and that finds not just the beauty in the world but the horrors as well.
The film also received a best original screenplay nomination for Del Toro and his female script-writing partner, Vanessa Taylor.
The other horror film to receive major Oscar attention is Jordan Peele's "Get Out." The film received nominations for best picture, best actor for Daniel Kaluuya, and best director and original screenplay for Peele. His film brilliantly used horror (and horror as a satiric tool) to sharply attack issues of racism from the perspective of someone who has been victimized by it ... and gets a chance to fight back. Again, the reason this thrills me is that it's not just a horror film, but it's a horror film that eloquently proves how effective the genre can be to convey a political or social message.
There has been much focus on the Academy for its lack of diversity, and I am grateful that this year the efforts of the Academy and its members to seek out more diversity has resulted in films that are not just diverse but truly worthy. I mean, who really remembers or re-watches Paul Haggis' "Crash" that won in 2005? That film was initially lauded for looking to issues of race but has since been added to a number of worsts lists, including topping Film Comment's list of "20 Worst Winners of Best Picture Oscars."
Greta Gerwig joins a short list of women who have received best director nominations. She scored for her directorial debut "Lady Bird." Kathryn Bigelow was the first woman to win the best director Oscar. She won in for "The Hurt Locker" in 2010. Sadly, Dee Rees failed to receive attention for her incredibly fine work on "Mudbound," but her female director of photography Rachel Morrison did. Both Gerwig and Rees did receive nominations for the screenplay.
But one area in which the Academy still seems reluctant to acknowledge diversity is in acting that is created by an actor in a suit or an actor doing motion capture. This year both Doug Jones as the Amphibious Man in "Shape of Water" and Andy Serkis as Caesar in "War for the Planet of the Apes" did phenomenally impressive work. They both proved that audiences will completely forget they are watching a suit actor or a CGI created character because the performances and the films make you completely believe in what you are seeing. So, in addition to racial diversity, I want to see some kind of recognition for the unique skills actors like Jones and Serkis bring to the screen. The oversight of not nominating either of them is truly shameful.
Some notable snubs included a complete shutout of "Wonder Woman," surely one of those makeup and hair nominations could have gone to that film if not a nomination for Gal Gadot. Gadot could have easily taken Meryl Streep's place in the nominations. Streep's work in Spielberg's "The Post" was by the numbers especially given that the part written in such a calculating way to try and make her real-life character of Katherine Graham seem even more ill-suited for the job of first female newspaper publisher than she actually was just to pump up the female empowerment story arc. If the atrocious "Suicide Squad" can win an Oscar, surely the Academy could have found something to nominate "Wonder Woman" for as some kind of acknowledgement for its box office success.
Comic book movies were mostly ignored but a surprising nomination went to "Logan" for best screenplay. "Logan" proved how to make a serious, dramatic comic book movie, and it's nice to see that rewarded.
James Franco was snubbed for his work in "The Disaster Artist," but it's hard to tell if that was because it was a mostly comedic role or because of the recent sexual misconduct allegations that have come up.
But scandal from personal life did not seem to hinder Gary Oldman getting nominated for best actor for playing Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour." After his win at the Golden Globes, Twitter lit up with comments pointing to domestic abuse allegations against Oldman.
This year has some of the best nominees for editing with “Baby Driver” (Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss),“Dunkirk” (Lee Smith), “I, Tonya” (Tatiana S. Riegel), “The Shape of Water” (Sidney Wolinsky) and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Jon Gregory). All these films and their editing truly show the craft of film editing. Too often Academy members vote for unwieldy epic films with long run times as if sheer volume of film merits Oscar attention (think "Ben-Hur," "How the West Was Won," "The Last Emperor") or for films with a lot of edits ("The Bourne Ultimatum," "Hacksaw Ridge").
But each of these nominees showed the craft of editing. Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss showed how to do car chases right with the help of director Edgar Wright and his musical selections to go with the action.
Lee Smith and director Christopher Nolan played with narrative structure in "Dunkirk" as did Jon Gregory and director McDonagh in "Three Billboards." Both films moved back and forth in time with great fluidity that drew from the structure of the script. The same can be said of Tatiana S. Riegel and director Craig Gillespie playing with form in "I, Tonya."
I was sad to see that a number of my favorite documentaries did not make the cut. "Dawson City: Frozen Time," "Casting JonBenet" and "The Work" were all excellent and the first two stunningly reimagined how you can make a documentary.
Novelty note: NBA legend Kobe Bryant received an Oscar nomination for the animated short "Dear Basketball" and Daniel Day-Lewis' nomination for "Phantom Thread" means he could extend his record for best actor Oscars to four!
Unlike recent years, I will be watching this year's Oscars with considerable hope since so many films that I love are actually nominated and have a chance of winning. Jimmy Kimmel will host the 90th annual ceremony for the second time on ABC on March 4.
Here is the list of 2018 Oscar nominations:
“Call Me by Your Name”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep, “The Post”
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”
“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro
“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha
“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman
“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer
“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory
“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin
“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees
“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh
“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen
Best Documentary Feature:
“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman
“Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda
“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan
“Last Men in Aleppo,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen
“Strong Island,” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes
Best Documentary Short Subject:
“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel
“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon
“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner
Best Live Action Short Film:
“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk
“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.
“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen
Best Foreign Language Film:
“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile)
“The Insult” (Lebanon)
“On Body and Soul" (Hungary)
“The Square” (Sweden)
“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith
“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel
“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory
“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green
“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King
“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood
“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin
“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill
“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo
“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick
“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer
“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola
“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau
“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell
“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige
“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens
“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common
“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul
Makeup and Hair:
“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick
“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard
“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten
“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran
“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran
“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges
“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira
“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle
“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick
“Kong: Skull Island,” Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus
“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan
“War for the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist