The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences announced their nominees for this year’s Oscars this morning. 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. In particular, this year’s crop is not a great group of nominees, but it could have gone a lot worse. 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: Black Panther. Marvel’s box office juggernaut was a critical/commercial darling, but it was rarely brought up this awards season. Including it is a pleasant surprise, and a signal that if comic book movies want to be considered serious art, they should at least attempt to tackle serious subjects.
Biggest snub: If Beale Street Could Talk. Annapurna distributed three films in 2018: Vice, Destroyer, and Beale Street. Almost all their attention was on Vice, a terrible film that is more like a bad episode of Chapo Trap House than a traditional biopic.
Stray thoughts: Last year was a great year for movies, but you wouldn’t know that from this crop of nominees. Including Green Book, Bohemian Rhapsody, and Vice is an embarrassment (more on that later). Also, in a year where several of the best films were helmed by women, it is disappointing to see a crop of Best Picture nominees where women are shut out. Leave No Trace, The Rider, Private Life, and Widows were completely shut out.
Biggest surprise: Spike Lee. The surprise is that this is Lee’s first Best Director nomination.
Biggest snub: Bradley Cooper or Ryan Coogler. They both directed the hell out of their respective films, both of which were nominated for Best Picture. They certainly did a better job than Adam McKay, whose film is smarmy and unfinished. Vice certainly has a lot of tricks up its sleeve, such as when it breaks the fourth wall multiple times, but its final hour is borderline incoherent. The big climax – conflating Dick Cheney’s open heart surgery with the Iraq War – is the low point of McKay’s career.
Stray thoughts: Since Green Book got several nominations, it is a relief that Best Director is not one of them. Do remember Peter Farrelly’s acceptance speech? It was a disaster – he was lecturing the audience about race relations, while few black people stood on stage with him – and while he probably would not have won, this is a positive that the moment will not be recreated.
Biggest surprise: Willem Dafoe. He is arguably the best actor working in the movies today, but his turn as Vincent Van Gogh has not really been part of the Awards Show conversation.
Biggest snub: Ethan Hawke. First Reformed is the best film of 2018, due in no small part to Hawke’s finest performance to date. He brought a wide range of emotions to the role, creating a believable arc from a withdrawn priest to a radicalized zealot. It a towering achievement in movie acting. More importantly, he is significantly better than Viggo, who gives the worst performance of his career in Green Book. As Tony Lip, his character never evolves beyond a broad caricature. Fat Tony, the mobster character on The Simpsons, has significantly more nuance.
Stray thoughts: It is astonishing to me that the consensus centers around Malek, not Cooper. Malek certainly wears false teeth, and nails some of Freddie’s mannerisms. But Cooper’s commitment to the role – whether it’s working with a vocal coach or learning how to play piano/guitar – is the sort of thing the Academy should celebrate. Once again, it is disappointing how voters prefer impressions, and not actual performances.
Biggest surprise: Yalitza Aparicio. Cuarón’s deeply personal film is a great one, and despite his skills as a director, Roma depends on Aparicio for its success. She’s the film’s anchor, and since this is also her first acting role, it is delightful to see her recognized in this way.
Biggest snub: Toni Collette. As many others have pointed out on social media and elsewhere, she is absolutely terrific in Hereditary, and her omission here is further proof of the Academy’s ongoing bias against genre films.
Best Supporting Actor
Biggest surprise: Sam Elliott. I almost went with Rockwell, whose performance as George W. Bush is basically a rehash of Will Ferrell’s, but I was pleasantly surprised by Elliott being included. In a film bursting with melodrama and powerful emotion, his final scene with Cooper (the one on a driveway) is the one that truly resonates.
Biggest snub: Michael B. Jordan. Since Black Panther was recognized for Best Picture, maybe the Academy should have also recognized the supporting performance that carries the film. Jordan plays the most memorable villain in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, and like Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker, Killmonger is a great villain since there are compelling arguments behind his terrifying agenda.
Stray thoughts: No one in this Academy Awards season has been more humble or warm-hearted than Richard E. Grant. If he ultimately wins Best Supporting Actor, I’m certain he will give a speech to remember, the sort that won’t leave a dry eye in the house.
Am levitating at this astonishing news. Thank you to @TheAcademy for this nomination in such incredible company. I’m indebted to so many people but most of all @melissamccarthy & Marielle Heller @cyefm ❤️@SearchlightUK pic.twitter.com/CIdJSMLkj1
— Richard E. Grant (@RichardEGrant) January 22, 2019
Best Supporting Actress
Biggest surprise: Marina de Tavira. Her performance as Roma’s matriarch is a strong one, but unlike Aparicio, the film does not depend on it.
Biggest snub: Claire Foy. First Man is one the biggest shut-outs of this slate of nominees, and when the film came out, everyone thought Foy was a shoo-in. At times, her performance as Janet Armstrong transcends the “concerned wife” archetype, and her chemistry with Gosling has a memorable edge to it.
Stray Thoughts: It is strange to me that Weisz/Stone got a Supporting nominations, since they clearly shared co-lead responsibilities with Colman.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Biggest surprise: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. This is surprising only because it’s qualified: this is an anthology film with six short segments, and only two of them are adapted from other works.
Biggest snub: No real snubs here! A solid list of nominees all around, which is not at all common this year.
Best Original Screenplay
Biggest surprise: First Reformed. Paul Schrader has been writing amazing screenplays every since Taxi Driver, but somehow this is his first Oscar nomination. At least it’s for his masterpiece.
Biggest snub: Sorry to Bother You. Boots Riley’s incredible satire emphasizes the “original” in original screenplay. Typically, this award is an opportunity to celebrate films that are not part of the Best Picture narrative, so it would have been nice to something off-kilter like Sorry or Eighth Grade get recognized (Annapurna and A24 distributed both these films, respectively, and clearly did not push too hard at the end of the year).
Best Foreign Language Film
Biggest surprise: Never Look Away. This the latest from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, who directed the Oscar-winnin German film The Lives of Others. Most folks haven’t yet seen Never Look Away, a three hour epic, hence the surprise it is included here.
Biggest snub: Burning. South Korea’s slow-burn thriller was certified art-house hit, with a terrific supporting performance from Steven Yuen. Roma is a lock for this award, but it’s a bummer smaller “movies that could” not get the recognition they deserved.
Best Documentary Feature
Biggest surprise: Hale County This Morning, This Evening. The Academy tends to gravitate toward light films that are easy to follow. Hale County is more of a challenge: it is an impressionistic cinema vertie film with no narration, and editing as its only real context or narrative. It is also a great documentary, so I’m glad to see them going for something a little out there.
Biggest snub: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. With one notable exception, everyone seemed to love this biopic of Mr. Rogers. Personal preferences notwithstanding, lots of awards watchers agree this snub is the biggest surprise of the festival.
Best Original Song
“All The Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight,” RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Biggest surprise: “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings.” The last two films from The Coen Brothers, Inside Llewyn Davis and Hail Caesar, have much more memorable songs in them.
Biggest snub: Another song from A Star Is Born. There were some bops and bangers in there!