The 2018 presentation on March 4th will continue Hollywood's reckoning with sexual harassment and violence against women. The year in movies can be simply summarized by #MeToo and the rallying cry, Time's Up. The award season began with an earthquake that is still reverberating. Last October, Harvey Weinstein, head of The Weinstein Company and founder of Miramax films, was brought down by horrific rape allegations from numerous actresses. The tidal wave that followed ended the careers of Louis C.K., Danny Masterson, Roy Price (Head of Amazon Studios), and multiple Oscar winner Kevin Spacey; who was unceremoniously cut from Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World and replaced by Christopher Plummer weeks before release. This was just the beginning. The firestorm leaped from Tinsel Town and took down media heavyweights such as Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and comedian turned politician, Al Franken.
The #MeToo movement then galvanized the Golden Globes with a fiery speech from Oprah Winfrey, the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award. James Franco, who won the Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Golden Globe for The Disaster Artist, was called out for wearing a Time's Up pin to the ceremony. Actresses came out of the woodwork to accuse Franco of sexual exploitation. By the time the Oscar nominations were released on January 23rd, anyone with even a hint of scandal was scrubbed. Franco and The Disaster Artist were almost shut out, receiving only one nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Casey Affleck, the winner of last year's Best Actor Oscar, declined to present the Best Actress award this year. He wanted to avoid controversy because of his previous sexual misconduct allegations on the set of the 2010 film I'm Still Here.
The resulting nominations list was somewhat diverse by Hollywood standards, but still a far cry from gender or racial equity. Greta Gerwig was just the fifth woman to receive a directing nomination for Lady Bird. She's also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. Biracial director Jordan Peele scored a twofer with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Rachel Morrison became the first female cinematographer in Academy Awards history to be nominated. She was recognized for her work in Mudbound, a Netflix film that did not get a Best Picture nod. Mary J. Blige did get a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Mudbound. Octavia Spencer was also nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for The Shape of Water. She won previously for The Help. This was the first time that two women of color were nominated in any category. It is at least a step away from the #OscarsSoWhite controversy of 2015.
It is in this context that we have Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water leading the pack with thirteen nominations. Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk was second with eight nominations, followed by Martin McDonough's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with seven. Each film scored a Best Film nod, but Martin McDonough, inexplicably, was shut out for director. The battle on all fronts seems to be between The Shape of Water and Three Billboards. Both films have cleaned up at the Golden Globes and SAG awards. But the Best Film and Best Director awards do lean towards The Shape of Water. The film won the Producers Guild Award, which is a usually reliable bellwether for the Oscars.
I have several issues with this year's nominations. The Disaster Artist, Mudbound, The Florida Project, and I, Tonya deserved Best Picture nominations. I think these films were just as good, if not better than Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name. James Franco, who as far as I know hasn't been charged with any crimes, deserved a nomination for his brilliant portrayal of Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist. As much as I love Denzel Washington and his performance in the lackluster Roman J. Israel, Esq., the academy played it safe by cutting Franco. Dee Rees was also snubbed for Best Director and Best Film. Her Mudbound, along with Craig Gillespie's brilliant black comedy, I, Tonya are superior films to Lady Bird and Call Me By Your Name. Greta Gerwig won a Golden Globe for directing Lady Bird. She's nominated again for the Oscar. I respect her efforts and accomplishments, but Lady Bird especially is a headscratcher for me. I strongly feel that Mudbound and I, Tonya were shut out by weak studio PR campaigns. Here are my picks in the six main categories.
Jordan Peele's Get Out is the best film of 2017. This ingenious thriller is a biting satire of interracial relationships, liberal sentiments, and black characters in horror films. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is invited by his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to meet her family. The rub is that he's black, she's white, and her family doesn't know. Chris suspects something is off with his hosts, but has no clue what's in store. Get Out is wickedly entertaining with a reveal that no one sees coming. I usually find horror films to be gratuitous and trite. Get Out is a clever take and certainly one of the best films ever in the genre. Get Out is a long shot to win, but certainly deserves it.
Christopher Nolan delivers greatness in this lean war film. Set in June 1940, more than three hundred thousand Allied troops are stuck on the French beach of Dunkirk. Facing annihilation by the Nazis, the British send an armada of civilian boats to rescue the soldiers. This war epic is not filled with rousing speeches and earnest character development. It is escape or be killed. Nolan vividly captures the harrowing journey from multiple points of view. Dunkirk is brilliantly shot and acted with a terse sensibility. Nolan will probably lose to Guillermo Del Toro, but he is definitely in competition for Best Director.
Veteran actor Gary Oldman is an absolute lock to win Best Actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill. Darkest Hour is essentially the political side of the Dunkirk story. In May of 1940, Neville Chamberlain is forced out as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Winston Churchill is chosen to replace him after much consternation. Churchill, a brash and bold figure, refuses to negotiate with the Germans. He despises Hitler, but the entire British infantry is on the verge of being wiped out on the beaches of Dunkirk. Churchill's decisions defined the outcome of World War II and earned him a revered place in history. Oldman is unrecognizable under the marvelous make-up and costumes.
Writer/director Guillermo Del Toro is the man to beat this year. His beautifully shot The Shape of Water has been a critical darling since it won the Venice Film Festival last August. Set in 1960's Baltimore, a mute janitor (Sally Hawkins) begins a love affair with a captured amphibious man (Doug Jones) at a top secret government facility. The performances, especially Sally Hawkins who earned a Best Actress nod, are towering. My issue is that the romance between girl and fish is too quickly developed. They round the bases in record screen time. That, and the steadfast nature of the villain (Michael Shannon), was too glaring to overlook. I'm in the minority here. The Shape of Water is beloved. I think it's pretty good, but not remotely in the same breath as Del Toro's masterpiece, Pan's Labyrinth. Sally Hawkins was absolutely incredible in Maudie, an indie film with Ethan Hawke that came out in early summer last year. Hawkin's deserves to win Best Actress for amazing performances in both films, but will likely lose to Frances McDormand or Saoirse Ronan.
Willem Dafoe, known for playing edgier roles in his storied career, is all heart and compassion in The Florida Project. He co-stars as Bobby Hicks, the manager of The Magic Castle Hotel, a low rent, final stop before the streets, home for poverty stricken kids and their families. Set in Kissimmee, Florida, the same town as Disney World, Bobby does his best to protect the children from harsh reality. The motel marks a stark contrast to the fairy tale, tourist trap of the so called Magic Kingdom. Dafoe will have a hard time beating Sam Rockwell, who won the SAG and Golden Globe for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Allison Janney has conquered television with seven primetime Emmy awards. She needs to clear space on the shelf for her first Oscar. Janney is both terrifying and hilarious as LaVona Golden, the cruel mother of figure skater Tonya Harding. Golden was a brutal, wretched parent that rained physical and verbal abuse on her daughter. Allison Janney is unsparing in her depiction of this vile woman. I, Tonya is a film that tears at your insides. It's knockdown funny, shockingly violent, and heartbreaking at the same time.
Best Animated Feature should go to Coco, with Original Screenplay going to Jordan Peele for Get Out. Best Adapted Screenplay should land with Virgil Williams and Dee Rees for Mudbound. Roger Deakins has Best Cinematography on lock for Blade Runner 2049. The prediction for Best Documentary is Feras Fayyad's Last Men in Aleppo. And the Best Foreign Film should definitely go to The Square.