Yesterday morning The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced their nominees for this year’s Oscars. As always, the prognosticators did not get it 100% right. There are a few surprises, both in terms of what got nominated and what got snubbed. Here is the highly subjective, yet completely correct guide to what should piss you off, what should surprise you, and how to chat about the major awards at the proverbial water cooler (i.e. on Twitter and Facebook).
Biggest surprise: Darkest Hour, I guess? If the Churchill biopic had come out ten years ago, everyone would be talking about it as the clear favorite. But lately the Academy has grown wary of Great Man biopics. Between this film, The Crown, and The King’s Speech, I’m surprised five percent of Academy voters collectively decided Churchill deserves even more attention than he’s already gotten.
Biggest snub: The Florida Project. Come on, Academy, Sean Baker’s tearjerker was an art-house hit! Sort of. Anyway, this one has cute kids, incredible direction, and a memorable ending. I’m not mad, Academy, I’m just disappointed.
Biggest surprise: Hey, look, it’s not a list of five white guys!
Biggest snub: Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name. This is the romantic film that is looks as sumptuous as its premise. So many scenes are full of longing, and Guadagnino created a world that audiences wanted to get lost in. I still daydream about a hazy summer in northern Italy, and I’ve never been to that part of the country.
Biggest surprise: Daniel Kaluuya. During its theatrical run, no one was really talking about Kaluuya’s performance. It was probably because it’s not the type of performance that generates attention, and yet he pulls off something tricky. He is an everyman, a comic foil, an avatar for racial injustice, and finally a grindhouse hero. He pulls it off, while always being believable, and Get Out would fall apart without him.
Biggest snub: James Franco, The Disaster Artist. I use “snub” loosely here: once the news broke about James Franco’s history of sexual abuse, it was all but assured he would not receive a Best Actor nomination. This year’s Oscars will be touchy since the industry is still reeling from the #metoo movement. Still, it’s rare for a Golden Globe winning performance not to receive an Academy Award nomination.
Stray thoughts: Did anyone actually see Roman J. Israel, Esq? This seems like a placeholder nominee, and I would liked to see more daring choices like Hugh Jackman in Logan or even Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049.
Biggest surprise: No surprises! This crop is consistent with Best Picture nominees, and previous award shows.
Biggest snub: Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread. Daniel Day-Lewis is an unparalleled acting talent, but in Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest, relative newcomer Krieps proves to be his equal. If the film is a portrayal of relationship dysfunction, the actors need to be a convincing pair. Day-Lewis gets all the juicy flourishes as Reynolds Woodcock, but is Krieps’ turn as Alma that anchors, allowing its bizarre twists to flourish.
Stray thoughts: Whoever wins this award will have to accept the statue by noted sexual harasser Casey Affleck. The allegations against him come from a pre-Weinstein Hollywood, so he’s not seen as a pariah like others who have been exposed in the past six months. Still, I hope the winner snubs him, or refuses to accept the statue from him altogether.
Best Supporting Actor
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
Biggest surprise: Christopher Plummer. This is an impressive performance insofar that he filmed his role on a limited timeline – he was brought into sub for Kevin Spacey after the sex scandals – but Plummer riffs on the mannered villain roles he’s been doing for decades. Also, he arguably has the biggest role in All the Money in the World. Just exactly who is he meant to support?
Biggest snub: Michael Stuhlbarg, Call Me By Your Name. Stuhlbarg appears in three Best Picture nominees this year, but few got more people talking than his touching, exquisite monologue in Call Me By Your Name. Supporting Oscar nominees are usually recognized for one noteworthy scene, and this one is a doozy, tugging at the heart strings quite like a father speaking to his son about love, loss, and growth.
Best Supporting Actress
Biggest surprise: Octavia Spencer. The Shape of Water is a stunning film, and based on the number of nominations, it’s an Academy favorite. Still, I don’t think Spencer’s performance is all that special or interesting. Spencer is tremendously talented, and yet her character is sidekick type. It’s almost as if the Academy wanted to pad out Shape of Water wherever they could.
Biggest snub: Allison Williams, Get Out. Her character starts as a loving, supportive girlfriend, only to end as a deranged racist murderer. That transition is no small feat, but Williams nails it while earning big laughs along the way (the image of her eating Froot Loops will forever be tattooed into my memory).
Best Adapted Screenplay
Biggest surprise: Logan. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Wolverine’s swansong just like most folks, but the Academy rarely recognizes superhero films. Then again, I guess Logan transcends that genre, since it is a film with plausible characters and actual stakes (even if the Shane references are a little on the nose).
Biggest snub: The Post. Like All the President’s Men, Spielberg’s The Post is stacked with information and the detail of investigative journalism. The screenplay by Josh Singer and Elizabeth Hannah weaves all this seamlessly, while leaving ample room for character development. It’s a better screenplay than Spotlight, also written by Singer, and its political import only makes the omission all the more glaring.
Stray thoughts: Molly’s Game is easily the worst thing that Aaron Sorkin has ever written. It includes all of the Sorkin cliches, such as characters name-dropping their alma mater and bombastic monologues about the virtue of Quixotic ethics. What makes it horrible, however, is arguably the worst movie scene in 2017: our virtuous, independent female protagonist gets a lecture from her dad, literally explaining to her what her problem is. It the apotheosis of man-splaining, a Sorkin staple, so the sheer condescension toward Molly and the audience nearly made my eyes roll into the back of my head.
Best Original Screenplay
Biggest surprise: Get Out. Jordan Peele’s megahit did not get much award recognition yet, but its inclusion in major awards shows that the Academy recognize a masterpiece when they see it. This is Peele’s first feature film, so the recognition for Best Picture, Director, and Screenplay is all the more impressive.
Biggest snub: The Florida Project. Sean Baker’s drama is arguably the biggest loser of this year’s nominees, and none hit harder than in the screenplay category. All the dialogue is natural, allowing its young characters to develop as plausible child characters, instead of the over-precocious kiddos we’ve seen over the past few years.
Stray thoughts: In Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, I thought we would see either Lady Bird or Get Out, but not both. It is utter delight to see these terrific films recognized, not just because they’re excellent, but because celebrating Gerwig/Peele is a step away from the status quo.
Best Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman
On Body And Soul
Biggest surprise: Loveless. Russia’s official entry is bleak, and an explicit critique of how Putinism eroded the country’s moral character. It is kind of surprising that, again, the country honors the latest from Andrey Zvyagintsev, particularly since the Russian government condemned his last film Leviathan.
Biggest snub: BPM. France’s entry was a bona fide crowd-pleaser, depicting the early struggles of the AIDS crisis. The film mixes desperate a public health procedural alongside transcendent party moments, which is a stunning examination of the balance between escape and despair.
Best Documentary Feature
Biggest surprise: Faces Places. The Academy typically recognizes traditional documentaries: those that are profiles (Searching for Sugar Man, Amy) or “message” films (Citizenfour, Inside Job). Co-directed by French New Wave stalwart Agnes Varda, Faces Places is a playful documentary that blurs the line between filmmaker and subject. It’s a terrific flick, twee and weird in the best possible way, and this a category where we rarely see those qualities recognize.
Biggest snub: The Work. Few films from 2017 are as arresting or original as The Work, a documentary about a group therapy session between convicts and civilians in San Quentin Prison. The Work did not have a theatrical release in D.C., unless you caught it at AFI DOCS last year, but it’s the sort of thing you will never, ever forget. The good news is that you can rent it from Amazon for $5.
Best Original Song
Biggest surprise: “Mighty River.” In addition to getting a nomination for Best Supporting Actress, Mary J. Blige performs this R&B ballad for Mudbound. It is nakedly rousing, drawing from gospel tradition, and does not quite fit into the subdued, simmering emotion of the film.
Biggest snub: “Visions of Gideon.” Sufjan Stevens wrote two songs for Call Me By Your Name, and the faint, evocative piano of “Gideon” had a stronger effect on me than the wistful “Mystery of Love.” Also, “Gideon” pairs perfectly with the long close-up of Timothee Chalamet staring into a fireplace, reflecting on summer he will always cherish.
Biggest surprise: Mudbound. Even when you’re streaming at home – Mudbound debuted on Netflix – the film has a tactile realism to it that’s hard to shake. This is a surprise because some trade magazines have been drumming up bad blood between Netflix and traditional distribution platforms. Also, this nomination is refreshing since Rachel Morrison got the nomination in a field where no women were previously recognized.
Biggest snub: No snubs! This is a solid list of memorable-looking films. It will just be hilarious when Blade Runner‘s cinematographer Roger Deakins, nominated for the billionth time, loses again (probably to Dunkirk).