Saturday, March 3, 2018

Oscars: Fishmen and Sunken Places

Sunday night is the Oscars, and as in every year, Michelle and I are spending the weekend cooking. I'll do the Oscar food-post on Monday, though. Today, since I have a little time and I've seen all of the movies I'm likely to be able to see, I shall offer up my thoughts and predictions.

A couple of notes: I'm not going to talk about Best Animated Feature because I've only seen two of the nominees (Coco, the likely winner, and The Boss Baby). Apparently there were some changes the way the nomination for this category is decided this year, which is why, perhaps, we got the usual Pixar offering (in fairness, Coco is pretty baller) but also mainstream crap like Boss Baby and Ferdinand. But then again, I haven't seen Ferdinand, so maybe it's awesome.

Anyway, on we go, in no particular order.

Best Supporting Actor: I missed All the Money in the World, so I don't know if Christopher Plummer knocked it out of the park. I do know that both Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson turned in great performances in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (hereafter called Three Billboards). Of the two, I think Rockwell's was the meatier role and the more deserving performance. I don't think it's real likely that Willem Dafoe is going to take it for The Florida Project; I think the role was too understated and I think Rockwell has more momentum behind him (plus Florida Project isn't nominated for anything else). That leaves "oh hey that guy!" Richard Jenkins as the narrator in The Shape of Water. Jenkins is a reliably good actor, and it might be that Shape of Water has enough steam built up and the Academy wants to reward Jenkins for his career (this is his second nomination, incidentally). That's especially true if two noms from Three Billboards split the vote.

My choice & prediction: Sam Rockwell

Best Supporting Actress: From everything I've heard, this is basically a lock for Allison Janney for I, Tonya. I don't think that Laurie Metcalf's distraught mom in Lady Bird or Leslie Manville's icy sister in Phantom Thread are going to upset that. That leaves Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water and Mary J. Blige in Mudbound. Of the two, I think the latter is the stronger performance; as much as I loved Spencer in The Shape of Water, the performance felt similar to some of the other things she's done. I don't think Blige is going to take the win, but I have to say that Janney's performance feels deserving.

My choice & prediction: Allison Janney

Best Actress: Another lock: Frances McDormand. And I'm fine with that. The only other role that comes close to the same intensity is Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, and as Elsa Sjunneson-Henry points out here, it would have been nice to see an actress who could sign fluently in the role. Beyond that we the inimitable Meryl Streep in The Post (though honestly my knee-jerk is to grumble when she gets nominated because she's been nominated so many times and yes, she's a fantastic actress, but there are a lot of others, yeah?); Saoirse Ronan as a teen finding herself in Lady Bird; and Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding.

Say what you want about I, Tonya and whether it glorified Harding (I didn't see it that way), Robbie's performance is fantastic and she manages to put across someone who had a shit time of it and is a pretty selfish and terrible person. That's hard to do. She's not going to beat McDormand's performance in Three Billboards, but I kinda think in terms of pure acting, I like what she did more.

My choice: Margot Robbie
My prediction: Frances McDormand

Best Actor: Apparently this one is a lock for Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour. Eh. I'm not a fan of the movie. It was good, it was watchable, some great performances, but it was a biopic and like, I've seen those. Now, looking at the rest of the slate, there are some really good performances. We've got Denzel Washington playing the title role in Roman J. Israel, Esq. It was a good performance, some problematic aspects of the movie aside (to wit, the character is supposed to be "autistic savant", but I think the screenwriter needed to bone up on what autism actually is). We've got Timothee Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name, and while I really loved the movie, I think Chalamet is too young and up against too much love for Oldman to win. Daniel Day-Lewis is up for Phantom Thread, in supposedly his last film role before retiring, and that alone might get him to the win if the Academy thinks they'll never have another chance. Finally, we've got Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out, which I think is far and away the strongest and most nuanced performance here. I don't think, though, that it's going to be enough to get the Academy away from Oldman, sadly.

My choice: Daniel Kaluuya
My prediction: Gary Oldman

Cinematography: So here we have a category that I'm unsure how to judge, but screw it, we'll just wing it. In addition to three Best Picture nominees (The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, and Dunkirk) we have Mudbound and Blade Runner 2049. Now, Blade Runner 2049 was visually impressive but that was about all it had going for it (sorry, I wasn't a fan). The two historical movies were also really cool to watch, but I don't remember anything jumping out at me cinematography-wise. Shape of Water had some really amazing moments, but I think for my money it needs to go to the understated work in Mudbound (plus, y'know, Rachel Morrison is the first and only woman to be nominated in this category and she was the cinematographer for Black Panther, so). I don't think the Academy is gonna go for it, though.

My choice: Rachel Morrison
My prediction: Dan Laustsen, The Shape of Water

Director: I'm very much in favor of Jordan Peele winning this. Aside from the obvious "POC don't get enough noms" issue, Get Out was fucking amazing and I'd love to see it win everything. I dunno, though. He's up against Christopher Nolan (who's never been nominated before, though his films have), Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro, and Greta Gerwig. Del Toro won the DGA and the Golden Globe, and I think that there's enough oomph behind him that he'll win this, especially since this is Peele's directorial debut (also true of Gerwig, who, incidentally, is only the 5th woman ever to be nominated here). I think Anderson probably doesn't have a shot here, I think it's between Nolan and Del Toro, but hey, I've been wrong before.

My choice: Joran Peele
My prediction: Guillermo de Toro

Visual Effects: Yeah, baby! The boomy movies! Here we've got Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Blade Runner 2049, Kong: Skull Island, and War for the Planet of the Apes. So, in terms of who had the best visual effects and seamlessly integrated them with the movie itself, ehhhh, it's a toss-up to me. I think I ditch War and Guardians because I don't think they did anything the previous installations didn't do (though I hear War the favorite here, which kinda surprises me). Last Jedi had some neat scenes, and the CGI wasn't as obvious to me as in, say, Rogue One or Force Awakens. Blade Runner looked amazing (it also dragged, but that wasn't the VFX fault). Kong was really the one that I thought was really amazing to watch, but maybe it's that I've seen it more recently? I dunno.

My choice: Kong: Skull Island
My prediction: War for the Planet of the Apes, I guess? Not Last Jedi? Not sure.

Adapted Screenplay: Interesting slate here. Novel (Call Me By Your Name), memoir (Molly's Game), graphic novel (Logan), novel (Mudbound), and memoir (The Disaster Artist). I though The Disaster Artist was a pretty well-realized film, and I though Molly's Game was tight without becoming too much like every other Sorkin thing ever. I loved Logan, but as an adaptation of Old Man Logan it's kinda half there (because Old Man Logan is kinda not great and full of rape). The novel adaptations, I have no idea because I haven't read them.

Well, I think Logan and Molly's Game are long shots. I think Disaster Artist is possible, but I think James Franco may have screwed that particular pooch. If it's between Mudbound and Call Me By Your Name, I think I'd call it for the one that's nominated for Best Picture, although frankly both are really well-told stories. I think Call Me might be a little tighter?

My choice & prediction: Call Me By Your Name

Original Screenplay: Normally this is where we'd find the weird stuff. Dan Gilroy got nominated for Nightcrawler here, but this year his movie got a Best Actor nom instead (and it wasn't as good). Four of the five noms are also up for Best Picture, but this year, that means the weird stuff (The Shape of Water, Get Out, and Three Billboards) are getting wider recognition, too. I read an article that talked about why that was - it has to do with a) the way Best Picture noms are chosen (basically weaker middle-of-the-road choices aren't as safe anymore, and it's the stuff that people are passionate about that's getting chosen) and b) newer Academy voters choosing newer stuff. Suits me.

Anyway, in addition to the three movies I mentioned and Lady Bird, we've also got The Big Sick, this kind of loosely autobiographical story of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. It was funny, but I can't help but notice the sort of similarity between the wanky one-man show Kumail does in the movie and the inherent wankiness of doing a movie like this. In any event, it's interesting to me that normally you'd see Shape of Water OR Get Out OR Three Billboards here, and now they're all Best Picture noms and the rom-com with the woman in a coma is the outlier.

I think Lady Bird is unlikely to win here, but if it wins anything I think it'll be this. I think it's more likely we'll see a streak for Shape of Water, but y'know how I feel.

My choice: Get Out
My prediction: The Shape of Water

Best Picture: OK, here we go!

Unlike in some previous years, there's nothing that's nominated here that makes me go "why was this nominated." I'm not crazy about the two WWII films, but they aren't going to win and they're not bad movies, they're just kinda pale in comparison to the movie innovative or relevant stuff (now, WWII movie that showed the rise of the Nazi party and examined how that kind of shit happened? That would be topical). So that's Dunkirk and Darkest Hour.

Likewise, The Post had the chance to be highly topical. Thematically, it's about the responsibility of the press to tell the truth even in the face of adversity, which is something our press is not really doing. But it wound up feeling like an Oscar movie - it's tense in all the right places, but it winds up with a happy ending an a nomination for Meryl Streep. Eh.

Phantom Thread has gotten more interesting the longer I sit with it. It looks like it's going to be this obsessive, controlling dude kind of abusing his girlfriend, but it turns into this weirdly toxic-yet-functional quasi-BDSM relationship between them. I'm kind of sad Vicky Krieps wasn't nominated for Best Actress over Streep, actually. In any case, I don't think this is winning.

Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird are character studies, and they're both beautiful films in their own way. Lady Bird gave me flashbacks to Catholic school, and showed us what I thought was a nicely modern struggle of a teenager trying to figure out who she is and where she's going. Call Me By Your Name is a love story, and while the fact that it's between two men is relevant, it's not the focus of the movie (that is, it's not what you'd call tragiqueer). Plus, Armie Hammer was fucking amazing. I don't think, however, that either of these are taking it. I think Greta Gerwig is too new, and I think Call Me By Your Name doesn't have the buzz.

So that leaves us Get Out, The Shape of Water, and Three Billboards. Now, I'll say right now, my choice is Get Out. I love horror movies, but quite beyond that, this is a movie that's not just made about black Americans but by and for them, and I think that's really goddamn important. And, the movie is fantastic on its own merits, and layered like whoa. Three Billboards looks like it's going to be about racism in a small town, but winds up being about bad choices having consequences (I saw someone give a really scathing review in which they claimed that Clarke Peters' character was a magical Negro trope, and I just don't see it) and the lead characters actually exhibit some growth.

The Shape of Water is a beautiful fairy tale, but, IMO, it's not as tight as, say, Pan's Labyrinth, and the dance sequence in the middle kind stuck out for me for a couple of reasons. I'm thrilled it got nominated and I suspect it'll probably win, and I'm actually OK with that because I like it when genre films win this prize.

But, like, consider what it would say if, following Moonlight's win last year, Get Out won this year. That'd be pretty cool.

My choice: Get Out
My prediction: The Shape of Water