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

by Hunter Lanier on January 24, 2018 in Entertainment, Film,

Other than putting on a show, I’ve never quite understood the purpose of the Academy Awards.

Unlike sports, for instance, where there are statistics, there is no quantitative measure for a movie’s quality. It’s all subjective, and when pooling the opinions of a large group, you’ll always end up with the most homogenized, crowd-pleasing results. In other words, these awards are meaningless. That said, I enjoy the Academy Awards for being an opportunity to look back upon the year and remember the fantastic times I had at the movies. Let’s do that.

Best Picture:

DUNKIRK | PHANTOM THREAD | THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI | CALL ME BY YOUR NAME | GET OUT | LADY BIRD | THE POST | DARKEST HOUR | THE SHAPE OF WATER

If the Academy was an organization of one, and that one happened to be me, “Dunkirk,” “Phantom Thread” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” would be the clear front-runners, with “Three Billboards” bringing in the win. But, for some baffling reason, unknown to me, I’m not the sole member of the Academy. Maybe we can work that out next year. (As an aside, the only bad thing about “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is having to type it, over and over again. We’ll see if that affects its award chances.)

As far as “Darkest Hour” and “The Shape of Water” go, I think I might have seen different movies than everyone else. Both are cliched, hyperbolized and superficially scripted, and have no place accepting little gold men.

For the others, I would lovingly declare them as “good.” Best Picture? I don’t think so. “Call me by Your Name” and “Lady Bird” are well-photographed, well-written coming-of-age stories that stick so closely to the formula, you could bottle them en masse and stock every shelf in America. “Get Out” is consistently being praised for its originality, but how many times will our protagonists run over a symbolic deer? In the magical realm of movies, they need to start putting up road signs that read, “SYMBOLIC DEER XING.”

Academy’s winner: “The Shape of Water” | My winner: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Coulda been a contender: “The Lost City of Z,” “mother!,” “Logan,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Hostiles”

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 Director:

Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”) | Jordan Peele (“Get Out”) | Greta Gerwig (“Lady Bird”) | Paul Thomas Anderson (“Phantom Thread”) | Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”)

I don’t know how anyone could witness the mammoth undertaking of “Dunkirk” and not give Christopher Nolan this award, as well as whatever you have in your pockets. Paul Thomas Anderson is a close second for me—he was working with a smaller canvas, but one which require some finer, more precise mechanics. Also, it’s interesting that two of these nominees, Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig, are first-time directors. Are we turning a cinematic corner? If so, watch out for deer.

Despite my own feelings, this is Del Toro’s year.

While I agree he’s a visionary mastermind, he’s also a subpar storyteller, not unlike his fellow reveler in genre, George Lucas. In other news, give me “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” over “The Shape of Water” any day.

Academy’s winner: Guillermo Del Toro | My winner: Christopher Nolan

Coulda been a contender: Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), James Gray (The Lost City of Z), Darren Aronofsky (mother!), Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049)

Christopher Nolan received a Best Director nomination for his World War II epic, Dunkirk. Courtesy photo

Best Actor:

Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”) | Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”) |Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”) | Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) | Denzel Washington (“Roman J. Israel, Esq.”)

Gary Oldman is the front-runner, for reasons I cannot fathom. This reminds me of when Al Pacino finally won his Oscar for the mediocre “Scent of a Woman,” after losing it year after year for the likes of “The Godfather,” “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” If anything, Oldman deserved the award for his phenomenal performance in 2011’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Jean Dujardin won that year, and no one’s heard of him since (maybe he’s still in character).

Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (2017).
Photo by Jack English © 2017 Focus Features

Personally, I would give Day-Lewis, who is supposedly retiring, one final award—that would make four, by the way. His role of a 1950s, obsessive-compulsive fashion designer doesn’t offer the same scene-chewing opportunities of a Daniel Plainview or an Abraham Lincoln, but the man, nonetheless, finds a way to capture your attention and put it in a headlock. Only Daniel Day-Lewis can make an enthralling experience out of watching someone watch someone else eat breakfast. The absentee here is James Franco (“The Disaster Artist”), a would-be front-runner, whose real-life predicaments seems to have caught up with him. Hopefully, Tommy Wiseau is still invited to the show. His presence in this awards cycle almost got me to watch the Golden Globes. Almost.

Academy’s winner: Gary Oldman | My winner: Daniel Day-Lewis

Coulda been a contender: Robert Pattinson (“Good Time”), Christian Bale (“Hostiles”), Hugh Jackman (“Logan”)

Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Photo by Merrick Morton, courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

Best Actress:

Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water”) | Frances Mcdormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) | Margot Robbie (“I, Tonya”) | Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) | Meryl Streep (“The Post”)

This statue is McDormand’s to lose, and rightfully so. Her performance as a heartbroken mother with a callous over her soul carries significantly more weight than the other nominees. In one of her most memorable scenes, she plays opposite a symbolic deer, who does, in fact, survive the film. I don’t understand the hubbub over Hawkins, and it seems that Streep writes it into her contract for accepting a role that she be subsequently nominated. I would have preferred to have seen newcomers, Vicky Krieps and Florence Pugh, take their spots. Both give understated but potent showings as women who are strangers in their own homes.

Academy’s winner: Frances McDormand | My winner: Frances McDormand

Coulda been a contender: Vicky Krieps (“Phantom Thread”), Florence Pugh (“Lady Macbeth”)


Hunter Lanier is a Houston-based film reviewer who appears on the Critics Circle podcast from the Houston Film Critics Society. Freshen your soda and refill your popcorn for “Oscar Nominations: The Good, The Bad, and The Coulda Beens, Part II.” 

Cover photo: Doug Jones in The Shape of Water, photo Fox Searchlights