Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Oscar Narrative: The Race Shifts Gears

As always, the Oscar nominations are filled with shocking surprises, jaw-dropping snubs, and always manage the change the race. We all think we know what is going to happen, who is going to win. But then the second nominations are announced, the game changes. This year, it feels like it has really shifted from the perception that we all had just a few days ago. So I predicted eight nominees, and those were the eight chosen. I just didn't feel there was a clear ninth place film, and apparently neither did the Academy. What I find interesting is how the order of the films has changed. So Green Book wins the PGA, and yes it can still win the Oscar. But missing Best Director is a big deal, and its nomination total pales in comparison to others. On a preferential ballot that will not matter as much as it used to, but I do wonder if the backlash against the film is finally catching up to Oscar voters, the same way it did with Three Billboards last year. After winning the Globe and SAG (in Green Book's case, the Globe and the PGA), Martin McDonagh was snubbed for Best Director. Some people stupidly thought that it didn't matter (I'm totally talking to myself here), but I think it effectively reduced the buzz for the film, and signaled that maybe the Academy was not willing to embrace a controversial film. Time will tell, but Green Book might have just peaked. Four films emerged today a lot stronger than they did, and one sank tremendously. Of course, for the latter, I am talking about A Star is Born. Missing editing and directing is just proof that while the film is clearly beloved, it is not the slam-dunk contender we thought it was. The Critics Choice and Golden Globe Awards had hinted at this, but this morning, that hint was confirmed. Now on to the four. Roma missed Editing, which is so interesting, and if it ends up not winning, we might point to that missing nomination, which seems to be a precursor for an Oscar Best Picture. But overall, I think it overcame that one odd snub with its surprising surge of support from the acting branch, the biggest branch in the Academy, that just gave it its full-fledged approval. SAG might have not appreciated the acting, but the branch of the Academy certainly did. The other three, The Favourite, BlacKkKlansman, and Vice all got everything they needed. All got director, screenplay, editing, and at least one acting nod (I will say I was dissappointed that Washington did not get in, but I don't think that it affects BlacKkKlansman's overall support). All three can be seen as political films, antidotes in the Trump era. Celebrations of LGBT characters, black filmmakers, and liberal visions of conservative politicians. I think all three should not be discounted, although if it is between these three and Roma, with Green Book as the dark horse, I will pick Roma, the least divisive of the bunch. What does all this mean? It means Best Picture is a real tossup, but the players are a lot different than we assumed. Also, while the haters have been out in full force, it is so freaking awesome to see a superhero movie, in this case Black Panther, finally earn a Best Picture nomination. I hope that this is a trend that continues for those particularly special members of the genre that rise above the tropes.

The acting awards provided some of the big surprises of the morning. I knew that there were sixteen that were locked and loaded, but one slot from each category was up in the air. I did not predict any of those slots correctly. The Yalitza Aparacio nod did not surprise me, as the buzz had been there all season. She didn't show up in a lot of the major guild precursors, but there was clearly love. Sam Rockwell wasn't shocking either. Timothee Chalamet has been sliding into all of the precursors all season, mostly on the goodwill he had built up over the Call Me By Your Name campaign last year. But let's face it, Beautiful Boy was not that great of a movie, no matter how good he was. In the end, they picked last year's winner in a film that clearly loved. Makes sense. The other two were pretty jaw-dropping. Willem Dafoe only had critics awards, no BAFTA, no SAG, and I just didn't think enough people saw the film. But the real shocker was Marina de Tavria. She was magnificent in the film, but had almost zero precursor support. Her nomination shows the true love these voters have for Roma. Director also had its surprises. None of the nominees were shocking, but the exclusion of Bradley Cooper really was a shocker. Although it follows the trend of this branch being unique. Also, I have to give a shout out to Spike Lee. After decades in this industry, he earns a well-deserved and well overdue Best Director nomination. I know Cuaron is going to win, and he deserves it, but I just keep hoping that maybe this year, they go for Spike.

There were some other shocks and surprises, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs getting all of its nods including Adapted Screenplay, First Man missing in Score, Won't You Be My Neighbor? missing in doc. The technical categories are always filled of surprises. The one big takeaway I got from them was the clear influence that the influx of new foreign language Academy members has had on voting. Tech nods for Roma, Cold War, Never Look Away, and Border show that foreign films are no longer a vice for Oscar voters, a change that has been long overdue. We have lots to discuss, and plenty of precursors left to help act as a guide for this particularly unpredictable season .We'll just have to wait and see how the narrative unfolds.

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