Nominations for the 2018 Academy Awards on March 4th were just announced and, to no one’s surprise, the Best Picture nominees are:
- “Call Me By Your Name”
- “Darkest Hour”
- “Get Out”
- “Lady Bird”
- “Phantom Thread”
- “The Post”
- “The Shape of Water”
- “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
I confess to having missed one out of that list, which I plan to rectify in the upcoming weeks before the March 4th ceremony. The one I have not seen is “Phantom Thread,” but it is playing near me at the Lamar Boulevard Alamo Drafthouse and contains what is rumored to be the last performance by Daniel Day Lewis, who announced that he was going to stop acting. (Of course, Cher announced her final tour how many times?)
I heard Richard Roper, the film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, say on WGN radio that “Three Billboards” has the inside track now for Best Picture. It is about an empowered woman seeking justice for her daughter’s rape and murder. Empowerment and women’s rights being all the rage now with the “Me, Too!” movement, he could be right. It is a darkly original well-written script directed by its writer, Martin McDonagh (“Seven Psychopaths,” “In Bruges”). Frances McDormand (married to a Coen Brother and star of the original “Fargo”) is always a force to be reckoned with and she certainly is in this film.
The cast for “Three Billboards” is uniformly great, including Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson, both of whom were nominated for Best Supporting Actor. I saw “Three Billboards” twice, once in Chicago at the film festival and once when I took my husband to it, because I knew he would enjoy it. It was a true original and I think my assessment on The Movie Blog.com at the time was “original and bad-ass,” both of which still apply. At the time, I was being chastised for ranking movies too high (I only go to movies that I think are going to be good, if possible). I had to find a “bad” thing to point out about the film, I commented that Frances McDormand’s character was unremittingly negative, to the point that it was difficult to “humanize” her, even though an attempt was made in a scene with a deer, and that, in real life, many of her actions would have gotten her arrested and thrown in jail. I also did not like the ending as much as the rest of the film. I wonder now if the plan was, even then, to potentially have a sequel?
If I were to rank order these films in terms of how much I enjoyed them, rather than alphabetically, as above (“Phantom Thread” excepted, of course), the rank order, for me, would be:
#1: “The Shape of Water”
#2: “Lady Bird”
#3: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
#4: “Get Out!”
#5: “The Post”
#6: “Darkest Hour”
#8: “Call Me By Your Name”
I’m a former HWA (Horror Writers’ Association) member and that means that the idea of the monster getting the girl appealed to me (“The Shape of Water”). When you read my detailed review of the film elsewhere on this blog, you, too, will appreciate the achievement that “The Shape of Water” represents. It was the closing film of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival and I was blown away when I read through all of the press notes about how much care and effort went into making it. It truly deserves its record number of nominations (13, the most) and I would love to see it win as Best Picture of the Year. I also remember meeting Guillermo del Toro at a previous Chicago International Film Festival, when he was being given a special award, and a nicer man you cannot find.
Because of my connection to writing horror, I was also very happy to see “Get Out!”, directed by one-half of the Key & Peele comedy team, make it onto the list. It was truly a good film and the lead actor, Daniel Kaluuya was great in the lead part and got a nomination for Best Actor. I particularly enjoyed the Golden Globes opening, when host Seth Meyer described the film as being “a black man finds himself surrounded by a group of rich white people who don’t want to grow old.” Then, in alarm, Meyer looked at Kaluuya in the audience of Hollywood actors and actresses and said, “Oh, no! GET OUT!”
“Lady Bird” is another well-written script. It has the distinction of being a film written by and about women by Greta Gerwig in her directorial debut. It was clever, capturing the essence of the mother/daughter relationship growing up, and much of it was based on Gerwig’s own upbringing in Santa Barbara, California, although she denies being much like Saiorse Ronan’s character of Lady Bird, when she was a teenager. (Saiorse Ronan received a nomination for Best Actress and Laurie Metcalf received a Best Supporting Actress nod playing her mother.)
I took a close friend (who also has a daughter) to the film, telling her it had a good chance of being nominated for Best Picture, and we both enjoyed it (for the second time, in my case). Laurie Metcalf is great in her part as the mother and Tracy Letts, a Chicago native and the playwright responsible for “August: Osage County”, came to our screening. He is perfect as the father (who always gets to be “the good guy”), although, in real life, he admitted he had no children. (Something I read he was rectifying right now.) It would be nice to see a small film triumph, but I’m thinking the fine acting in it and the screenplay has a better chance of getting the kudos.
Interesting side note: Timothy Chalamet, who is nominated as Best Lead Actor for “Call Me By Your Name” also has a part in “Lady Bird.”
Michael Stuhlbarg: Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (aka, Dmitri) in “The Shape of Water.”
His double play may only be surpassed by Michael Stuhlbarg, whom I met and chatted with on “The Shape of Water” Red Carpet in Chicago. He portrays Chalamet’s father in “Call Me By Your Name,” has a role as a Russian scientist in “The Shape of Water,” and played the owner of the New York Times (Abe Saperstein) in “The Post,” so he is in three of the nine nominated films.
Quite the coup for this versatile actor, who shared with us that his next project was supposed to be playing Gore Vidal’s long-time homosexual partner opposite Kevin Spacey in a bio-pic. (One wonders what has happened to that planned picture now that Kevin Spacey seems to be persona non grata in Hollywood?)
(L to R) Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon and Cinema Chicago founder Michael Kutza in Chicago after the screening of “The Shape of Water.”
This picture was taken just as Michael Kutza (founder of Cinema Chicago 53 years ago) said to the two Michaels onstage, “Why doesn’t Spacey just come out of the closet and admit he’s gay?” Both of the actors cracked up laughing. At the time, it was a fairly brave remark, as Spacey had not fallen out of favor and the proverbial s*** had not hit the fan.
Since it seems a foregone conclusion that Gary Oldman will (finally) get the Best Actor statuette for his outstanding portrayal of Winston Churchill in “The Darkest Hour” I’d like to add that the film is actually very good, as well. It’s not just a case of a good acting job in an otherwise ho-hum film. Oldman truly deserves this honor, after so many, many good roles, and I would be surprised if any of the other actors in the category (Timothee Chalamet, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Kaluuya, Denzel Washington) give him any real competition for the gold statuette.
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour”
I would also be surprised if the make-up artists (Kazuhiro Rsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick) for “The Darkest Hour” didn’t cart off the award for Best Make-up and Hair, since their competition is “Victoria and Abdul” and “Wonder.”)
Sally Hawkins as mute cleaning woman Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water.”
The nominees are Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”); Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”); Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”); Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”); and Meryl Streep (“The Post”). Streep has just announced she will join the cast of “Big Little Lies” next season, playing the mother of Alexander Skaarsgard.
This brings me to the snub of both Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks for “The Post.” Maybe the Academy just feels they have been honored enough, but this was a truly fine and enjoyable film, and an important one in these times, since it deals with attempts to suppress the free press and focuses on the publication of the Pentagon Papers. I was also sad to see that Ridley Scott’s re-shoot of “All the Money in the World” got short shrift and that Jeremy Renner’s turn as Corey Lambert in “Wind River” didn’t get a closer look, but I think it was released too early. The Academy seems to have a short memory for films that aren’t released closer to the date of the actual ceremony.
Right now, all the momentum is definitely with “Three Billboards” and Frances McDormand, but I am an admirer of “The Shape of Water.” If I may remind viewers, however, Sally Hawkins (previously known for playing the meek sister of Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s 2013 film “Blue Jasmine”) had to play her role without speaking, as she portrays a woman who is mute. All of the actresses I saw were good (haven’t yet seen “I, Tonya” performance yet) but, for my money, having to play your role completely without words makes Hawkins’ task that much harder and her achievement that much greater. I wouldn’t mind seeing Frances McDormand win because women’s empowerment is today’s buzzword, but I’d really like to see Sally Hawkins be recognized for such a fine job, working under adverse conditions.
This category is one of the most difficult to predict. The nominees were 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”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).
First, let me say that having two actors from the same film (“Three Billboards) nominated for that film is always detrimental to one of them, but Rockwell, who has labored long and hard in the indie film field, has carted off SAG and Golden Globe honors already and certainly has a quirky, comic role that deserves recognition. But so do the others. Woody is equally good as the long-suffering and fatally ill Sheriff of Ebbing, Missouri. Christopher Plummer, playing J. Paul Getty in the had-to-be-shot-over-from-scratch “All the Money in the World,” is an old pro who does a great job for Ridley Scott, replacing the disgraced Kevin Spacey. The entire film was great and Ridley Scott, who pulled off an impossible task, at the ripe old age of 80, deserved more nominations for this film. Some said Michelle Williams would get a nomination as Best Actress for her role as the mother of the kidnapped grandson of J. Paul Getty, but she did not. I’d really like to see Richard Jenkins win, because he has been so good for so long (played the dead undertaker father in television’s “Six Feet Under“), but has never received the recognition he is due. It also would not bother me to see Christopher Plummer, a veteran actor, get the nod. Having said all that, it seems this is Rockwell’s year. Saw “The Florida Project.” The child actors—especially Brooklynn Prince as Moonnee—-were impressive, but it was not Willem Dafoe’s finest hour or strongest part in a storied career.
Saiorse Ronan in “Lady Bird”
Nominees are Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”); Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”) and Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”). I have not yet seen either Allison Janney, Lesley Manville, or Mary J. Blige, but I’m a big fan of Steppenwolf product Laurie Metcalf, better known to TV audiences as RoseAnne’s television sister. She was terrific as the Mom in “Lady Bird” but somewhat snubbed at earlier awards shows, in favor of Allison Janney, who plays Tonya Harding’s mother. It was interesting to learn that, although both Letts and Metcalf came out of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, they had never shared a stage before “Lady Bird.”
Guillermo del Toro
Nominees are Christopher Nolan for “Dunkirk;” Jordan Peele for “Get Out”; Grets Gerwig for “Lady Bird”; Paul Thomas Anderson for “Phantom Thread”; and “The Shape of Water” for Guillermo del Toro. Again, notable snubs to Ridley Scott for “All the Money in the World” and to Steven Spielberg for “The Post.” My heart is with “The Shape of Water.” It was quite the achievement; read the review posted here earlier.
Playwrght/actor (“August: Osage County”) Tracy Letts, at the showing of “Lady Bird” in Chicago.
Without mentioning ALL the categories, I’d like to see “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” triumph for Steve James and Kartemquin Films in the documentary category. They are headquartered in Chicago (40 years and counting) and this is their second nomination for an Oscar this year, along with “Edith & Eddie” in the Best Documentary Short Subject category. I’d also like to see “The Square” win for Best Foreign Film, “In the Fade” (which I also saw) from Germany seemed to have the inside track, but was another notable snub.
Another interesting odd fact concerns the Best Actor/Best Supporting Actress categories where the one-time former husband/wife team of Gary Oldman (for “Darkest Hour”) and Lesley Manville (for “Phantom Thread”) were both nominated. Oldman has been married 5 times. Lesley Manville was his first wife, whom he married in 1987. He left her in 1989, 3 months after their son, Alfie, was born. In 1990 he married his most famous wife, Uma Thurman but that only lasted two years. He also had a drunk driving arrest in 1991 while out with Kiefer Sutherland (his blood alcohol was 2x the legal limit in California) and has made numerous unfortunate statements that caused him (some say) to be blacklisted in Hollywood for a while. (One was a “diss” of the Golden Globes, which, this year, he seemed genuinely thankful to receive for playing Churchill). His most recent wife is writer and art curator Gisele Schmidt, whom he married in September of 2017, so Oldman will be a newly-wed with about 6 months of matrimonial bliss to his credit in his fifth marriage by the time the awards are televised. Met him during a Chicago showing of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” in 2012, for which he was also nominated as Best Actor.