One Year Anniversary and Oscar Thoughts

This morning I awoke to an email informing me my credit card had been charged by WordPress. This was expected, but also allowed for a lovely moment to grin to myself and reflect on a year of blogging. It hasn’t been as consistent as I would have liked, mostly due to all that wedding stuff and getting married and all that, but I will say the site has pushed me to write more than I have in other areas in the past year. Part of the reason I paid for my own domain last year was to force my hand a little; and while I can still do better, I think there’s something to be said for the starting point.

I’ve always been more of a fits and spurts creative person. It’s actually how I tend to deal with a lot of stuff in my life. I go for weeks listening to podcasts in my car because they take up chunks of time, before I realize I need to take a break from the unseen talking heads and go back to music in the car. I find myself gravitating toward certain activities for several weeks at a time before I either fulfill the desire or it passes. When I was spurred on by a book idea over the summer, I wrote several thousand words (something about 15,000, if I recall) before I saw the inspiration skid out for a while, only to see a recent uptick in my output in that department (I still intend to finish it, hopefully before the summer). I can go months without writing a song and then, bam, write what feels like a complete album in days. Welcome to my brain.

All that said: I’m pretty proud that I’ve been able to keep up with this blog as well as I have. Maybe I undershot my once-a-week expectation, but at least I’ve set one; now I know better, but can still push for something resembling consistency. In any case, I’m looking forward to more frequent blogging and writing in general in 2018. I’m hopeful that you, dear reader, are as well.

But wait, there’s more…

The Oscar nominations for the 2018 ceremony were announced last Tuesday, which means enough time has gone by for me to have thoughts and also have figured out what I still need/want to see before the broadcast, which will take place on March 4 (later than usual because of the Olympics). First a few category-by-category thoughts for the headliner awards.

Best Picture: For the most part this held pretty flush with the Golden Globes and the major guild awards save for two: Joe Wright’s Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour and Paul Thomas Anderson directing Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed acting swan song in Phantom Thread (two titles that seem like they should have a “the” at the beginning but do not, interestingly enough). The other nominees were all pretty much expected: Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Post, The Shape of Water and Golden Globe Best Picture (Drama) winner Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Of the nine, I’ve seen five as of today, with only Hour, Phantom, Call Me and The Post as of yet unseen by me. Obviously I’m partial to Nolan’s Dunkirk, but I think it’s going to be a tough sell in light of the current climate in Hollywood, even if it is a traditional Oscar movie in many senses. Otherwise, of those I’ve seen, Lady Bird was the most impressive; while I understand why people love Guillermo del Toro’s film, I just didn’t find it to be a very interesting story, and I feel similarly about Three Billboards. And although I know I’ll probably be ripped apart for this, Get Out didn’t seem to me to be the masterwork people are painting it to be. I get that it has “things to say,” but it felt a little lightweight in that regard, hinting at ideas rather than hitting on the issues, as vital as they are. So my heart says I’d love to see Nolan and Co win, but barring that, I’m rooting for Lady Bird.

Best Actor: The conversation here is, by all accounts, mostly a moot one, as Gary Oldman has been gobbling up awards left, right and center for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, and it feels like the type of performance, sight unseen by me, that will propel him toward the Oscar. Interestingly the Best Picture films I haven’t seen line up almost perfectly with this category, with Daniel Kaluuya’s leading role in Get Out standing as the only one I’ve seen thus far (he’s fine, but isn’t asked do much besides look a little dumbfounded by the proceedings until the last 15-20 minutes), so I don’t have much to say at the moment. The aforementioned Day-Lewis would tie Kathryn Hepburn with his fourth trophy, but it seems like the momentum is with Oldman, who has never won and is, ironically, giving the same type of performance that won DDL his third for Lincoln a few years ago.

Best Actress: Another category with what seems like a foregone conclusion, with Frances McDormand’s angry mother from Three Billboards being very much the front-runner here. I’ve seen more of these performances (Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water and Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, with Margot Robbie in I, Tonya and Meryl Streep in The Post rounding things out), and would have to say that McDormand is really quite good in her role. It’s wildly different from her Oscar-winning turn in Fargo all those years ago, and the script allows her more to do than simply seethe, which is kind of what the trailers suggest. Hawkins does a lot with no dialogue in Water, but as I mentioned the film doesn’t do a lot for me and the performance isn’t as showy as McDormand’s; same with Ronan’s turn, which is beautiful and subtle, but likely as the “she’s going to be back in this conversation again” talk behind it, given how young she is and the fact that this is already her third nomination at just 23 years old.

Best Supporting Actor: And yet again, we seem to have a major leader coming into the final stretch, in the form of Sam Rockwell in his performance from Three Billboards (it did really well at the SAG awards, too, so this isn’t a surprise, really). The rest of the crew (Willem Dafoe in The Florida Project, Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards, Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water and Christopher Plummer in All The Money in the World) all just appear to be along for the ride. Harrelson does good work, but is gone about halfway through the movie, and Jenkins doesn’t have a ton to do other than sort of play a version of himself. I haven’t seen Florida or Money, but the lack of nominations elsewhere for either film doesn’t bode well for either, especially in the case of the latter, who is likely here to represent the feat of his having taken over the role vacated by Kevin Spacey after the film was already shot and mostly finished. Dafoe reportedly plays heavily against type, but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be enough. The name I would have loved to see here: Tracy Letts for his moving and vital performance as Larry McPherson in Lady Bird.

Best Supporting Actress: I saw about 25 minutes of I, Tonya, and while I think Allison Janney is immensely funny and talented, she doesn’t seem to be playing a character so much as a cruder version of herself in costume. The other nominees are Mary J. Blige in Mudbound, Lesley Manville in Phantom Thread, Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water, and the honest truth is that only Metcalf seems to have an outside shot. She and Spencer are the only ones I’ve seen in full, and Metcalf’s performance is more intricate and nuanced, not to mention pivotal, of the two; she isn’t chewing on scenery the way Janney does, but Metcalf’s work is impressive nonetheless. For a film so driven by subtle, thoughtful performances, it is a surprise to me that Lady Bird is only represented in two acting categories, and that the Academy is still sort of driven by the showiness of a performance, but that seems to be the case here again.

Best Director: I see this as a situation where there will be a split in the votes. I could see the Academy giving this award to someone like Nolan or del Toro simply because of the massive nature of the movies they produced, whereas “smaller” films like Get Out, Lady Bird and Phantom Thread might be overlooked here, no matter how much the voters admire the work. Del Toro won the Globe, so that seems to point to a first time victory for the Mexican director, although once the DGA Awards are handed out on February 3, we might have a better idea on this one. None of the three veterans has ever won this award, and neither Nolan nor del Toro has even been nominated before, so this feels like a two-horse race here, even if neither of those films ends up winning Best Picture.

Best Screenplay(s): For Adapted Screenplay we have Call Me By Your Name, The Disaster Artist, Logan, Molly’s Game and Mudbound; for Original Screenplay we have The Big Sick, Get Out, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards. The big news here is the first ever writing award for a comic book movie in Logan, a dark, gritty and difficult to watch final chapter in Hugh Jackman’s career as Wolverine. It’s impeccably written and paced, and likely should get more attention than it probably is. The adapted category is probably the place where Name, with only three other nominations in tough categories, might see victory, although with Aaron Sorkin in the mix, it’s tough to call it a lock. The original bunch is really one of the best overall group of nominees this year, with arguments to be made for most of these films. A win for any of the Best Picture nominees might be telling, especially if it’s either Get Out or Lady Bird, two films that aren’t as likely to win the top award. For my money, I’m all in for The Big Sick, which should have gotten more love this year, or Lady Bird, which I think I’m leaning toward being the movie I want to see clean up this year.

Other thoughts:

  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi ended up with a total of four nominations (Original Score, Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing), which I’m in favor of. It’s got stiff competition in all four categories, especially in the technical categories, where films like Blade Runner 2049 or Dunkirk might prove to be the biggest winners.
  • Speaking of Blade Runner, will someone please give Roger Deakins his well-deserved Oscar already?
  • Kobe Bryant is now an Oscar nominee. I’m so confused.
  • The Best Animated Feature category is a mess. I haven’t seen any of the films yet, but there’s no way The Boss Baby is one of the best five animated movies of the year, is there?
  • I really hope Sufjan Stevens performs his song from Call Me By Your Name at the show. I haven’t seen the movie, but I really enjoy Stevens’ music, and I think he would be a standout part of the telecast.
  • While The Shape of Water is the leader with 13 nominations, I’m conservatively going to say it doesn’t end up winning the most trophies on the evening. It likely won’t win any of the three acting nominations it’s up for (so down to ten), I’m calling wins elsewhere in Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Production Design, Sound Editing and Mixing as well as Original Screenplay (leaving it with three), so it is down to Best Picture, Best Director and Original Score (2 of those 3 it won at the Golden Globes). If Jonny Greenwood or Hans Zimmer sneak in to take Score, the nominations leader could end up losing 92% of its categories, assuming del Toro is a lock. The fun part about this year is this: there just aren’t that many foregone conclusions, which should make the show all the more interesting, since anything is bound to happen.

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