What’s ‘Oscar Worthy’?

This is my follow up to my previous Award season post and that’s a half-legit-half-sarcastic question. Because I often see it associated with commentary about Black Panther – the talking out of both sides of your mouth commentary that goes, yes, it’s good for diversity but is it good artistically. To which I say, hell, yeah, watch Ruth Carter’s breakdown of the work that went in to the costume design (linked in the original post), check out Ryan Coogler’s notes on a scene, observe the world building, the character building – the way it gives an antagonist credible motivation that impacts the character arc of the protagonist in a way that changes the world he inhabits, and yes the cultural impact (all black everything cracking the exclusive billion dollar club, becoming a global phenomenon – so much for black films not travelling, winning acclaim and awards as a legitimately well told story, inspiring young ones, and sparking meaningful dialogue about the black experience on the continent and in the so-called new world and the fractured relationship between the two), and then miss me with your faux concern about it pulling down the Academy with its comic book cooties.

Art is art right? And if a piece of work’s artistic merit is undeniable, why step on it because it’s in a genre you find juvenile or lacking in gravitas. It’s the Get Out scenario from last year all over again – the I don’t like horror or horror is not to be taken seriously narrative (so what it’s not just horror of the slasher fic variety, so what it’s more social commentary and satire than jump scares … not to mention really well written). To me, talking books for a minute, that’s like dismissing Marlon James’ Brief History of Seven Killings as ‘mere’ crime fiction, Stephen King’s Misery (not to mention the Dark Tower series, and more I could mention) as ‘mere’ pop fiction, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as ‘mere’ romance, Marlon James’ upcoming Dark Star Trilogy as ‘mere’ fantasy… as if any work of art can’t exist as part of a genre (yes, hitting those genre notes) while being a legit work of art. There are some that don’t and there are some that do, but if you’re the type to dismiss a work of art without examining or engaging with it first, or, after engaging with it refuse to treat it as a serious work of art based purely on its genre, well, then…you and Bill Maher can do you…but I don’t want to live in such a narrow world.

Because in my world, there are tons of ‘Oscar Worthy’ films, e.g. Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station and arguably Creed, before Black Panther, which have been totally overlooked. Hell, in a world where Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X exists, this is Spike Lee’s first best director Oscar nomination. How, Sway? We know how. Films have been overlooked for reasons other than merit since the beginning of the Oscars – for not being in the right place at the right time (i.e. not having the money to be seen by and potentially enchant voters), for being on the margins (due to race or gender or any number of other factors), for being too unsettling (too boundary pushing not mainstream or feelgood or ‘relatable’ enough), for being too genre (genres, ick!), for existing in that blindspot where they don’t even see you even when you’re exceptional and not necessarily even then. For instance, as much as the Academy loves British period costume dramas, did Belle (or at least actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw or director Amma Asante) get a second look from Academy voters back in 2013? Let’s not act like every Oscar winner to now was the best performance of the year. It’s a subjective reality, it’s about being on somebody’s radar, and sometimes, every now and again, the best gets it…but there are many who don’t even get seen. So until we can engage with that reality, miss me with your ‘Oscar Worthy’ arguments.

Rant over. Okay? Because I don’t have the time to list all of the overlooked performances over the years; there isn’t enough space in these internets.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to see more of the top contending films of 2018, I’m going to give my picks for the categories I care about and who I think will probably actually win.

Best Picture: Of the eight nominees, I’ve seen four – Black Panther, Blackkklansman, Green Book, and Roma. This means I haven’t seen Bohemian Rhapsody, A Star is Born, The Favourite, or Vice (I have thoughts but I won’t comment on what I haven’t seen). As for what I have seen. You already know how I feel about Black Panther and I think Blackkklansman is really well done as well, tonally, the most daring given the dark subject matter. And that ending, didn’t expect tears but they showed up anyway. Green Book was entertaining (great performances by Viggo and Mahershala and Viggo’s wife) but, in terms of its handling of race, hits the predictable beats and as a biopic centres the sidekick (there are reasons why, while many, not all, mainstream critics love it, mostly black viewers and critics have issues that they can’t or don’t want to see). Roma was slow to begin but really visually poetic and beautifully engaging as it went on. I think Roma will win and I’m okay with that, as it’s one of my favourites of the year, though I’d be happy with a Blackkklansman win and elated with a Black Panther win.

Best Actor in a Leading Role: I’ll abstain…because I just don’t care enough about any of these choices… but Christian Bale or Rami Malek will probably win, Rami has been cleaning up but the movie has a Bryan Singer problem, so we’ll see.

Best Actress in a Leading Role: A rich category but, easily, I’m rooting for Glenn Close. I have seen The Wife so this isn’t just a lifetime achievement for me (though you have to admit that after a career that includes The Big Chill, Maxie, Fatal Attraction, Reversal of Fortune, Dangerous Liaisons etc. – roles in non-‘Oscar worthy’ films like What Happened to Monday and Guardians of the Galaxy – and many performances I haven’t really seen but which are critically acclaimed like The World According to Garp, The Natural, Hamlet, and Albert Nobbs, she’s way past due). It’s not about previous snubs, it’s about a nuanced, layered, quiet and compelling performance of a woman overlooked (and isn’t that just perfect). The film itself is a bit tepid overall in my opinion, but she is its strong centre, so just give her her Oscar already.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: It bugs me that Adam Driver is nominated and John David Washington (who does really good work here – listen to his vocal mannerisms, for one) isn’t; it reminds me of that SNL sketch. Though Topher Grace with his convincing turn as David Duke is arguably a snub as well. But I’d be happy with a win for Adam so that the win goes to Blakkklansman over Green Book BUT Mahershala will win and I can’t be mad because I love Mahershala and because it was a great performance in that he fully inhabited his character, imbuing him with dignity and an undercurrent of vulnerability … it’s just unfortunate that he is a supporting character in a movie ostensibly about the experience of a black man travelling down south using the book (the green book) that black people used to travel the American south as safely as they could. But it’s all about point of view and the movie was written by the son of the Viggo character and skews to his pov. I still feel like we haven’t seen Dr. Don Shirley fully but Mahershala rendered him as fully as he could within the script he was given.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Okay, so I haven’t seen If Beale Street could talk but I have been following Regina King’s career since 227. I am happy for her and I hope she wins; that’s all I’ll say. Good thing I don’t have an actual vote. As to who will win, she might or if Roma sweeps Marina de Tavira might.

Best Animated Feature Film: I’ve only seen Into the Spiderverse…and I feel enthusiastic in my support of it for the win. It was so nimbly done in the way it moves between the different aesthetics without ever making me feel lost (and I’m not a Spiderman-stan, not by far). I like the humor of it and the action, and the stakes for the characters, great story, inventive use of animation, distinctive characterization and voice work; plus it was just enjoyable in a way no animated feature has been for me since maybe the Lego movie which was completely overlooked the year it came out (talking about Oscar snubs).

Best Cinematography: I would liked to have seen Steve McQueen’s Widows (which had strong and overlooked performances) included here because I do like what he did visually in terms of his shot choices and how they served the story in addition to it just being a sleek and beautiful looking film. I would like to have seen Rachel Morrison wedge a foot in to this boy’s club that is awards season (especially when it comes to the below the line nominees) because she is consistently good and Black Panther was visually stunning. But twas not to be. Of the available choices, I think Roma is the easy win here – I like how shots get uncomfortably personal in terms of what they focus on and in terms of how they hold the shot but also when the story demands it has a view which positions the smaller, more intimate story, visually, within the larger societal issues happening around it without commenting overtly on those larger issues. It speaks to the way life is happening around us all the time even as our gaze is turned toward our own issues. All of that plus the quality of the black and white and how it seems like the perfect film for that aesthetic choice. And then there’s that shot at the beach near the end, that long pan out in to the water, the tension in the silence and the movement and the increasingly rowdy waves and the uncertainty. Well done.

Best Costume Design: I’m going to be legit mad if Black Panther doesn’t get this. Back when I thought Black Panther didn’t stand a chance of being taken seriously as a nominee, I was rooting for a nomination for Ruth Carter for the research and the detail she put in to creating a world, a world has a culture and a history, and with each article of clothing she made Wakanda feel lived in – and she managed to honour the tradition of Afrocentrism while creating something that was Afro-future inspired in its originality and modernity and sense of you haven’t seen this yet til now. Seriously, she earned this Oscar.

Directing: Broken record alert, I would like to have seen Ryan Coogler nominated for visioning an original and inspired narrative and steering the ship that is Black Panther and I do think the Russo Brothers did a good job bringing balance and tension to a character-overloaded project like Avengers: Infinity War but two comic book movies in a year would have been wishful thinking. And for another year the Academy has decided that there are no women directors worthy of merit – no Debra Granik for Leave No Trace which I thought was an effectively atmospheric, character-driven, and emotion-stirring film, for one (though she’s not the only one who should have gotten a look). So, in the land of reality/how things are, can Spike finally get an Oscar already? Or is that too much realness – are folks still mad that Mookie busted the window of the Italian pizza place after Radio Raheim was strangled to death by the police setting off a riot- do they still not get that (get the festering rage that speaks to and Spike’s prescience in documenting that in film)? Spike is one of the definitive filmmakers of our time with signature moves like his trademark double dolly shot. and this is his first freaking best director Oscar nomination. Time to correct that. Beyond that and specific to Blackkklansman there’s a level of clarity and focus some of his other works are accused of lacking, and energy and tone to it that just makes for great and engaging cinema, while never losing sight of the stakes then and, unfortunately, now. Alfonso Cuarón might take this and I can’t argue with it though the film does have some pacing issues in my view.

Film Editing: I would say Blackkklansman makes a good case for itself here, for instance, in that car chase sequence which is reminiscent of 70s cinema but at the same time uses the chase to ramp up the tension in things happening outside of that moment. So let’s hope the Academy sees what I saw. I saw one critic lauding Green Book and dismissing Blackkklansman as a mediocre effort…seriously? compare the editing work on both of these if nothing else…one lines up the shots pretty much as you’d expect and one keeps you on your toes and yet never loses the narrative through-line.

Music Original Score and Best Song: I’m going to link these because though I love music I don’t have a lot to say about either of these. A Star is Born’s Shallow by Gaga seems like the frontrunner and the only other song I know is All the Stars by Kendrick Lamara and Sza which I liked well enough but didn’t love…but I actually think the Black Panther score was an integral part of its world building with its use of African and Afrocentric rhythms and sounds to amp up the excitement or layer the mood…but it wasn’t perhaps a standout as some of the more iconic scores of all time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was overlooked. That said, I have no clue who will win for score.

Production Design: I’m glad to see Hannah Bleacher get a nod for her world building in Black Panther – I believe the first black woman to do so, and I hope she wins.

Sound Editing: I’m rooting for A Quiet Place to win this one (and it’s a shame Emily Blunt who won the SAG for her role in this was overlooked for an Academy nomination – kind of a reverse Regina King, since King didn’t rate a SAG nom for If Beale Street Could Talk but is a favourite for the Oscar). The whole movie is about sound and it uses sound and silence well in telling that story.

Visual Effects: Avengers Infinity War would be my pick but First Man which, from several accounts was overlooked for Score, might get a win here…right?

Writing (Adapted, Original): I’d like to say something but I can’t say much not having seen many of the nominees and of the ones I have seen (Roma, Green Book, Blackkklansman), I’m not sure the writing is their strongest point and Green Book especially has issues as I’ve said. I am surprised to see A Star is Born which is about the fourth adaptation…does it really separate itself from the previous versions that significantly? So I don’t know…which is your pick for best written (original and/or adapted) screenplay? You know which screenplay was truly original for me this year? Sorry to Bother You…I’ve literally never seen anything like that film before; an imperfect but boundary-pushing script.

Everyone has their faves, of course. See the full list of nominations and let me know your faves, predictions, and snubs in the comments. For my part, I’m way more excited about this year’s show where there seems to be a lot more uncertainty than last year where the same people kept winning over and over and over. Let’s see what happens.

Oscar Thoughts

I actually haven’t seen that many movies this year – no Girl’s Trip (this year’s Bridesmaid, no Melissa McCarthy-ish surprise nomination though), no Green Days by the River (that’s a 2017 Caribbean film based on a work of classic Caribbean literature)– so why do I care? Because I love movies…and award shows. And I have opinions…here they are in response to (and in order of) the announcements above.

Production Design
I actually like Dunkirk for this one, though the buzz suggests Shape of Water has this on lock. I haven’t seen Shape of Water, though; so, Dunkirk. Which I liked, though miffed that the Commonwealth troops were omitted as they typically are from World War 2 films (five million + Commonwealth citizens, including some from the then British West Indies, enlisted during World War 2; they saw action in the Pacific theatre, in Africa, and in Europe; and roughly 1000 Indian soldiers specifically were involved in the events re-told in Dunkirk, though whitewashed from the screen).

Hmmm I’d say Dunkirk again for the same reason as above. It was a visual and sonic more so than a character driven film, and it did what it did well. But, yeah, Shape of Water (based on the buzz and everything I’ve read) will probably get this one too. Netflix isn’t showing Mudbound in my jurisdiction, yet, so I’m kinda mad about that one because I would like to pull an Issa Rae giphy

Sidebar – I like the little introductory vignettes they did for the announcement, and great to see Andy Serkis (of Lord of the Rings, and anything with motion capture) and Tiffany Haddish (funny and a survivor, and The Last Black Unicorn per her book title) announcing the nominees.
Costume Design
I haven’t seen any of these but I did see the trailer for Phantom Thread when I went to watch Justice League…and it’ll probably get this right? Phantom Thread, not Justice League. Next year, Black Panther, amiritie? tWIjOYWDv-0l

Sound Editing and Sound Mixing
Yep, I’m putting these together because I can’t tell them apart…and I’ll be rooting for…Dunkirk…not because it’s one of the few nominees I’ve seen (lol, at Haddish’s “I gotta see this Dunkirk, it seems like a lot of people like it”), but because I think a lot of the tension in the film is created with the way it uses sound and silence.

Animated Short Film
So, Kobe Bryant wrote a poem when he was retiring from the NBA and is now an Oscar nominee because of it…I’m not mad…really, I’m not. Dear Basketball.

Live Action Short Film
Respect to the nominees. But, pass.

Original Score
I’m probably doing that lazy thing Academy voters do by voting for a name that’s familiar and a franchise that I like but John Williams’ Star Wars: the Last Jedi. And I haven’t even seen this latest entry in my favourite space opera series yet. Good thing my vote doesn’t count. But have you read some of those honest ballot articles the Hollywood Reporter usually runs? Based on those, some actual Academy members’ votes shouldn’t count either.

Visual Effects
war-for-the-planet-of-the-apes1Hmmm I haven’t seen War for the Planet of the Apes (shout out Andy Serkis) but I have seen the two earlier installments in this series and what they’ve been able to do in terms of infusing life and human emotions in to the apes in the one before this one was nothing short of amazing. So, not having seen any of the entries, I would say this, though I hear good things about The Shape of Water and given that it’s the year’s most nominated film, it’ll probably win. And this does look kind of magical. Changes vote to Shape of Water.tmg-facebook_social

Film Editing
Man, I don’t know. A friend of mine has raved (several times) about Baby Driver but I also saw Bill Maher rant about how it was just another men driving fast cars movie and the last one of those I sorta liked was Gone in 60 Seconds (and that certainly wasn’t about to win any Oscars). Eenie Meenie Minie Moe? The Shape of Water it is.

Sidebar – Is it me or should Wonder Woman have been in one of those categories?

Makeup and Hairstyling
I suppose Darkest Hour will get this though I’m inclined to agree with the blogger who asked why didn’t they cast someone more Churchillean.

Actress in a Supporting Role
RootsMary J. Blige! This isn’t just about what Issa Rae said…but come on, from singing back up for Father MC at Uptown to (and I’m just calling albums I own now) My Life to Waiting to Exhale (Not Gon’ Cry) to the live album The Tour to Mary to No More Drama to The Breakthrough to all this drama with her leech-X this past year, I’m rooting for Mary, dawg. I know the sure money’s on Allison Janney who’s cleaned up all the early awards for what seems to be a role you can sink your teeth in to or, if there’s an upset, Laurie Metcalf (whom I do like) but Mary J. Blige, the Queen of HipHop Soul 71mfdwBQKeL__SL1280_is an Academy Award nominated actress. Come on, now.

My girl, Octavia Spencer is in this category, too. And given that Monique’s battle with Netflix (and the fact that Wanda Sykes was offered even less than her, like way less) has pay disparity where it intersects with gender and race, trending, I have to mention what Octavia said at Sundance. During a panel, she broke in to tears talking about how Jessica Chastain linked them in negotiations to secure Octavia a comparable deal to hers for their next film – you’ll remember that they co-starred in The Help and were both nominated for that one as well. She got five times her usual asking price. I’m glad that Chastain, some missteps aside, continues to walk the talk as a good ally but low-key peeved that she has that kind of leverage and Octavia doesn’t and that she should have to use it for an Academy Award winning (The Help), Academy Award nominated (Hidden Figures) actress who should have had at least one other nomination (just on the strength of that scene where she has to go identify the body of her son, killed by police in Fruitvale Station). I mean, Hollywood, come on, put some “respeck” on Octavia’s name. Monique isn’t lying, the system is rigged.

Actor in a Supporting Role
Woody Harrelson is good in everything he’s in (yes, including Zombieland) and Sam Rockwell is way underrated. I wouldn’t mind either of these.

Foreign Language Film
No Angelina Jolie shade here…but First They Killed My Father is the only foreign language film I’ve really been hearing about…beginning with the disturbing reports about how the kids were auditioned (which as I read it sounded emotionally manipulative) to her Golden Globe nomination to her being one of the directors in this year’s Hollywood Reporter roundtablethr_director_rt_171112_am_thr_horizontal_group_0074_splash…I guess this is a case of don’t believe the hype? Was it snubbed or was it just not that good…I’ll never know. Okay so a little bit of shade. Sad that I haven’t really seen or heard about any of the other nominees though. Abstain.

Documentary Short
Haven’t seen any of these.

Documentary Feature
Nor these.

Original Song
Mary J. Blige, duh. Although to be honest none of these songs are wowing me – though they all have a distinct sound, and Stand Up for Something by Andra Day and Common from Marshall though cliché did get my toe tapping and had that anthemic quality. Maybe I need to see them in the contexts of their films. I can see the Hollywood types going for the old Hollywood musical feel of This is Me from the Greatest Showman though – it’s got the drama and poppy sing-a-long quality of a Broadway standard.

Animated Feature Film
The mention of Boss Baby here has me second guessing if this was the one my friend recommended and not Baby Driver…anyway, the only animated feature I’ve seen this year is the Lego Batman movie which, like the first Lego movie, was snubbed – yes, snubbed. I liked Lego Batman not as much as the Lego Movie (everything is awesome!) but yeah robingif.gif
So, of the actual nominees, I must say I’ve heard about all of them (Ferdinand, Coco) except the Breadwinner, and Coco is the one that killed the box office right? So that’s probably the favourite. As a Vincent Van Gogh fan though and as someone who has followed the making of Loving Vincent and the use of his art and artistic style in the making of the film (I think the making of it is so cool – read more about it here) , and since the Academy doesn’t get what an achievement it is to animate two dimensional lego pieces in to fully formed characters in a script at once snarky and charming, Vincent has my vote. The artist does have a track record of inspiring beautiful art, remember this Don Mclean classic track

Adapted Screenplay
Logan (why Logan and not Wonder Woman though? hmmm). Because it’s about time the snobbery against super hero films (Deadpool last year anyone?) ended. or Mudbound. Because of the Issa Rae-ness of it all and it’s a chance for Dee Rees (who is on record speaking on the trials of being a black filmmaker in Hollywood, of getting  financing for your film, of getting a distribution deal for your film, even after being Sundance’s darling) because it’s a shot at an Academy Award for her after being left out of the director’s category. Molly’s Game will probably get it though (right?) because Aaron Sorkin (though I haven’t seen the film which stars Jessica Chastain and co-stars Idris Elba – sold!) is a good writer with a distinctive (love it or hate it) style.

Original Screenplay
For me, this is one of the tightest races. I like everything I’ve heard, read, or seen about The Big Sick (Kumil Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the husband and wife writing team who mined their life for inspiration, are delightful and their story is …wow, plus Holly Hunter and Anupam Kher – fan of their past work)DUPX32PU8AEf_YD and can’t wait to see it though I will have to given that I live behind God’s back and it’s tres indie. Get Out is easily my best film of the year just good storytelling (the foreshadowing, the tension and pacing, the character and plot development) and layers of meaning (symbolism, social commentary, challenging comfortable narratives), but also genre re-defining and genre defying actually, and both of the moment (Oscars so White, Black Lives Matter, diversity, post-racial lies) and classic (enduring, and the kind of film you need to see again and again to see it all). It’s just good and surprising, the latter not being something you can say often these days – and for the millionth time not or not just a horror film. P.s. I should’ve known that Get Out writer-director-producer Jordan Peele was the one behind the unsettling darker notes in the Key and Peele sketches because get out!https___blogs-images_forbes_com_scottmendelson_files_2017_02_MV5BMTUxMjEzNzE1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDYwNjUzMTI@__V1_SX1777_CR001777998_AL_-1200x675Is Ladybird the Juno of this year because I was kind of meh on Juno after all the hype when I finally got to see it…but good to see another woman and a woman-centred story in the mix. The Shape of Water or Three Billboards will probably get it though. Get out is my choice though and I’m going to be low key mad if they keep inviting Jordan Peele to the party and sending him home empty-handed (it’s the Colour Purple and India Arie all over again).

Actor in a Leading Role
Sidebar – I’ve seen some commentary about this so let me just say – you all goin need to back up offa my girl Tiffany. For the folks upset at her for messing up and mispronouncing names, I have one thing to say…actually six things: Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Oyelowo, Mahershala Ali…and, oh yes, Moonlight. – end Sidebar.

Okay, I saw Daniel Kaluuya (from Get Out) and Timothee Chalamet (from Call me by Your Name) in one of those Actor on Actor Variety Talks, and I just love them both and wish all good things for them, especially since Chalamet didn’t go all Kate Winslet quadrupling down on working with alleged sex offender Woody Allen. I’m not feeling the Gary Oldman as Churchill thing – I saw the trailer for the Darkest Hour and it’s just seems too showy of a performance for me; that “never surrender” speech is actually one of my favourite speeches (so I’ve listened to it a few times in my life) and something about the delivery just feels over the top Oscar-baity to me. But he’ll probably win because the Academy likes period pieces and prestige films and he is a favourite (not one of mine but in general) and is on a winning streak with no road bumps in sight unless some of the things he’s said and done in the past come back to bite him as it has others this awards season. Weird to say this but Denzel (much as we love him) feels like an also-ran here…and oh yeah should have won for Malcolm X back in the day and probably Fences last year. He is also a favourite though but everything I’ve heard suggests J. Roman Israel Esq. isn’t the one. Loved me some Daniel Day Lewis back in the In the Name of My Father, Age of Innocence days but I don’t know…if anyone could upset Oldman though it’d be DDL.

Actress in a Leading Role
If anyone will upset Frances McDormand whom I’ve loved since Fargo, it’ll probably be Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, right? McDormand seems like a sure thing after the Globes and SAGS though.three-billboards

I’m guessing Guiellermo Del Toro will get it. This is a good category, like any of these could reasonably take it but The Shape of Water seems to have the buzz and after listening to Del Toro and how he approaches his art in the Hollywood Reporter roundtable, I’m not hating. I’ve liked Nolan since Inception but Dunkirk doesn’t seem to have the momentum. Besides you know I want Jordan Peele to win right?
Film Title: Get Out
Best Picture
What’s my criteria – artistic achievement, relevancy, creativity-experimentation-surprise, enduring appeal, entertainment value, and that hodgepodge of presentation (performances, storytelling, etc. etc.). My pick – you already know this – is Get Out. But I’d be surprised if it won. Surprise me, Hollywood.