Oscar Nominations: The Good, The Bad, and The Coulda Beens, Part II

by Hunter Lanier on January 29, 2018 in Film,

In proper modern-movie fashion for franchises, my opinions on the 2018 Academy Award nominations have been released in two parts. (I know. It’s hard work. But somebody has to do it.)

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”)

Not since 1992 have two supporting actors been nominated from the same film (Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley from “Bugsy”). What a duo to break that record with in Harrelson and Rockwell. The latter is my pick, as you go from hating his character, to pitying him, to loving him, to hating him all over again. It’s a fantastic reminder that the greatest movie characters don’t have to be likable, but they must be engaging and dynamic—anyone remember Jake LaMotta? Of all the nominees in all the categories in this year’s awards, Rockwell is the most deserving. Plummer’s inclusion comes off as a bit of a publicity stunt. I would have liked to have seen Patrick Stewart’s nuanced, affecting farewell to Professor X get some recognition. Perhaps, it deserves mention that the Houston Film Critics Society did nominate Stewart for Best Supporting Actor.

Academy’s winner: Sam Rockwell | My winner: Sam Rockwell
Coulda been a contender: Patrick Stewart (“Logan”), Jaime Foxx (“Baby Driver”), Daniel Craig (“Logan Lucky”)

Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Photo by Merrick Morton. © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Best Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”), Allison Janney (“I, Tonya”), Lesley Manville (“Phantom Thread”), Laurie Metcalf (“Lady Bird”), Octavia Spencer (“The Shape of Water”)

Put your entire Vegas budget on Allison Janney. Not only is she great in the film, but it’s a transformative performance, which Academy voters get weak in the knees for (see Best Actor). However, I would much prefer to see Lesley Manville take this one home. Her stern, passive-aggressive knives, fashioned out of the English language, are funnier than anything in any comedy this year. Octavia Spencer seems like an odd choice to me. Maybe it’s my overall feeling on “The Shape of Water” talking, but if you were to ask me to describe her character, I couldn’t. There’s nothing there. Hong Chau had so much more to work with in “Downsizing,” and work with it, she did.

Academy’s winner: Allison Janney | My winner: Lesley Manville

2018 Academy Award-nominated Best Supporting Actress Allison Janey in I, Tonya. Photo courtesy Neon and 30West

Coulda been a contender: Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Good Time”), Hong Chau (“Downsizing”)

Best Adapted Screenplay:

“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)

This is a strong showing, save for “Mudbound,” which I found to be a boring, over-written soap opera. As a matter of fact, if the film’s narration could be harnessed and liquidized, it would make for an extremely effective tranquilizer dart. On a less snarky note, I was pleasantly surprised to see “Logan” make an appearance, and it absolutely deserves it for the film’s bold, individualistic reinterpretation of a franchise.

Academy’s winner: “Call Me by Your Name” | My winner: “Logan”
Coulda been a contender: “Blade Runner 2049” (Hampton Fancher & Michael Green)

“Logan” is the first superhero movie to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars. Photo courtesy Fox Movies

Best Original Screenplay:

“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)

Once again, “Three Billboards” is the best-written movie of the year. It’s the only one of these nominees that I would attribute the word, “literary,” to. And for a category called “Best Original Screenplay,” “The Big Sick” and “Lady Bird” don’t exactly scream originality. I don’t think I need to mention the deer in “Get Out.”

Academy’s winner: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri “| My winner: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Coulda been a contender: “Phantom Thread” (Paul Thomas Anderson), “Logan Lucky” (Rebecca Blunt), “The Meyerowitz Stories” (Noah Baumbach), “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (Yorgos Lanthimos & Efthymis Filippou)

Doug Jones in The Shape of Water, nominated for Best Original Screenplay among its 13 Academy Award nominations. Photo Fox Searchlights

Best Score:

“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)

My personal criteria for judging the merit of a score involves not only its role in the film, but also its listenability outside of the film. With that in mind, Jonny Greenwood’s entrancing piano score for “Phantom Thread” stands out above the rest. Within the context of “Dunkirk,” Zimmer’s score is perfect, but if you try listening to it separated from the film, you will go insane. I did, anyway. Contrary to popular opinion, I’m glad the score for “Blade Runner 2049” was not nominated. I wish synthesizers had stayed in the ‘80s, along with some other things. While I didn’t like “The Shape of Water” overall, Desplat’s score beautifully encapsulates the rusty, romantic fairy tale that Del Toro was trying to make, but couldn’t.

Academy’s winner: “The Shape of Water” | My winner: “Phantom Thread”
Coulda been a contender: “The Lost City of Z” (Christopher Spelman), “War for the Planet of the Apes” (Michael Giacchino)

Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps in Phantom Thread, nominated for Best Score. Photo Laurie Sparham © 2017 Focus Features, LLC.\

Cinematography:

“Blade Runner 2049” (Roger A. Deakins), “Darkest Hour” (Bruno Delbonnel), “Dunkirk” (Hoyte van Hoytema), “Mudbound” (Rachel Morrison), “The Shape of Water” (Dan Laustsen)

The World War II epic, Dunkirk, is one of five nominees for Best Cinematography. Photo courtesy Warner Bros.

The story here is Roger Deakins, who has been nominated for this award thirteen times and has yet to win. His work with “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t represent his best—that honor goes to “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”—but he has a solid chance of pulling it out this year, nonetheless. So, when you see the award doesn’t involve actors and a little old man takes the stage, don’t shift your attention to one of the other twenty screens you own, because that’s a legend winning for the first time. Again, these awards are meaningless, but it’s always nice to win. Deakins’ only foil could come in the form of Hoyte van Hoytema, who shot one of the most visually arresting movies I’ve ever seen in “Dunkirk.” But, maybe that accomplishment is more closely associated with that film’s director, Christopher Nolan. Only time will tell…(cue Zimmer’s score).

Academy’s winner: “Dunkirk” | My winner: “Dunkirk”
Coulda been a contender: Darius Khondji (“The Lost City of Z”), Vittorio Storaro (“Wonder Wheel”)


Hunter Lanier is a Houston-based film reviewer who appears on the Critics Circle podcast from the Houston Film Critics Society

Cover poster The Shape of Water, courtesy Fox Searchlights