Academy Awards 2018: The Best of the Best

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The 90th Academy Awards are just a few days away, which presents an opportunity to look a little more in-depth at arguably the four biggest awards of the evening: Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Leading Role.

All nominations have greatly earned their places this year, a year that has seen a woman and a humanoid amphibian fall in love, a grieving mother demand answers from the police in the unresolved case of her daughter’s death, and a newspaper take on the US government. There are some love stories, some historical dramas, even a horror, an actual horror movie with a black man as its lead actor, nominated for Best Picture, as well as (wait for a it…) a woman nominated for Best Director. To say 2018, with its Time’s Up movement and blockbusters featuring more people of races other than white, is setting up to be a year of change will hopefully be the biggest understatement ever.

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Best Motion Picture

– Call Me by Your Name

This year’s Best Picture nominations include a few unconventional love stories: one about an older couturier and his young muse, another about an amphibian and his human lover, and this one, about two men. Call Me by Your Name is blatantly the odd one out of the three. In a world that still, more often than not, considers homosexuality to be a crime (both metaphorically and literally, in some cases), Luca Guadagnino’s film is of the utmost import in assisting society in accepting that we are all human and deserve to love and be loved by whomever we choose or chooses us – we all go through the same emotional turmoil and enjoy and suffer everything love has to offer. It has also been very beautifully, artfully and lovingly created and has fully earned its place on this list. (Click here for the full review.)

– Darkest Hour

One of two World War Two-set (always pure Oscar-bait) nominated films, Joe Wright’s mini biopic that follows Winston Churchill in his first month of office as Britain goes to war is able to set itself apart from the many other Churchill-WWII-set films. This is mostly in thanks to Gary Oldman’s performance as the British Bulldog, which is outstanding. Strong contributions from the film’s composer, Dario Marianelli, and DoP, Bruno Delbonnel (also nominated for Best Cinematography), account for a very worthy contender overall. (Click here for the full review.)

– Dunkirk

It can’t be said that Christopher Nolan ever does anything by half, and Dunkirk, the second WWII-set Best Picture nomination, is no exception. At once an emotional historic retelling as well as an action-filled drama, Nolan’s use of three separate timelines converging onto one red-letter moment in world history is poignant and remarkable. The understated dialogue and brilliant performances that allow the story to do all the talking create an all-rounder that is necessary to remind us of the consequences of war.

– Get Out

Jordan Peele’s writing/directing debut hasn’t dropped in momentum since its release. It seems to garner more attention and accolades as time goes on. At one point, whilst writing, its racial context was considered by Peele not to be so applicable anymore (back when Obama began his first term as President), however time and the intolerable events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement proved otherwise, and Get Out became more befitting and important than ever. Not only that, but its thoughtful direction and clear influences from critically acclaimed thrillers and horrors past (Silence of the Lambs, Night of the Living Dead, amongst others) have contributed to one of the most unique and influential horrors/thrillers in recent cinematic history.

– Lady Bird

With Call Me by Your Name being essentially a coming-of-age story from a male perspective (though involving a lot more than just growing pains), Lady Bird is its female counterpart. Greta Gerwig’s thoughtful and insightful debut as a writer/director is so well-formed it will transport any female back to feeling like a seventeen-year-old again, and that is no mean feat. Between Gerwig’s ability to delve into that psyche and Saoirse Ronan’s skill in bringing it to life, Lady Bird stands firmly on its own plinth amongst the male-heavy nominations this year. (Click here for the full review.)

– Phantom Thread

Of all the films on this year’s Best Picture list, Phantom Thread, whilst still certainly a decent film, is arguably the weakest of the nine. This category generally reflects the artistry of pictures with a real emotional core and/or strong social commentary. Phantom Thread doesn’t really hold true to either of those as a basis for its story. It is one of its own, which could either work in its favour or against it. It’s the least likely to win the award, however as Joe Wright and most directors would probably attest to, just being nominated is recognition enough. (Click here for the full review.)

– The Post

Another historical recounting of a particularly important time in US and world history, Steven Spielberg’s latest foray into something that isn’t based in a fantasy world but instead on the cold reality of a corrupt government deceiving a country (not to mention the rest of the world) is, of course, prime Oscar competition. Fortunately the story is a decent one, well directed (we’d expect nothing less), fantastically performed (the Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks team-up we’ve always wanted) and still entertaining. It could be fair to say the Oscar award statuettes themselves are basically made out of Spielberg’s blood, Hanks’ sweat and Streep’s tears. (Click here for the full review.)

– The Shape of Water

Possibly the most original of the nine nominations, astounding filmmaker Guillermo del Toro once more allows us a glimpse into his beautifully fantastical mind. Considering the easily relatable and realistic ramifications of all other nominations, The Shape of Water allows us to loose ourselves in a bit of fantasy whilst resonating on a level that isn’t quite as obvious as the others (it’s an easy assumption that no one has ever hooked up with a fishman, but many have fallen for someone society has perhaps told them they shouldn’t). This films transcends the natural plain of our existence and challenges normality in a way that a film firmly grounded in reality may not have: it has its moments but del Toro makes us work to understand it in our own way. This is one picture many, many people are rooting for to win. (Click here for the full review.)

– Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Considering the praise this film has had and other recent awards given to him, it’s a bit of a surprise that Martin McDonagh hasn’t been nominated for Best Director for Three Billboards. It’s Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson’s performances that have been particularly lauded, but would they have been so highly commended if it weren’t for McDonagh’s direction? At least a Best Picture nomination calls on all who worked on the film to be recognised as one unit, however McDonagh should really have been called out in particular for his work here. (Click here for the full review.)

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Best Director

– Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk)

Ever the eponymous contributor, Nolan has scored his first nomination for directing. His body of work is relatively short but nonetheless epic. His work on Dunkirk is a triumph, his overall skill as a filmmaker shining through on all levels, right down to his casting of relatively unknown actors for the young soldiers. Nolan is not too far behind Spielberg in his ability to be a pioneering filmmaker, but he certainly isn’t in Spielberg’s shadow: Nolan completely shines of his own accord.

– Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)

Gerwig is only the fifth female to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award in the awards ninety-year history. As shocking as that may seem, hopefully this marks a turnaround for the future. Gerwig’s wonderfully emotional and enjoyable Lady Bird could be one to inspire the next generation of female directors. A well-deserved nomination if ever there was one.

– Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)

‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is perhaps a most befitting saying to describe the work of del Toro. Never one to allow the cynical thoughts of the masses deter him, this visionary director more than earns his praise. In a world where fantasy is not only wanted but needed, del Toro provides an escape that audiences crave whilst still being able to pass comment on subject matter affecting us all without directly shoving it in our faces. He laces his stories with a dreamy positivity whilst keeping a level head and not making it tacky. He’s like the caring father who picks you up and tells you a story when you’ve fallen and scraped your knee. Give the man an Oscar, for goodness’ sake.

– Jordan Peele (Get Out)

Peele did not expect the success that Get Out has procured. That alone says it all about his nomination. To create something that matters to oneself is important – to have others care about it to this extent is exceptional. Peele’s voice comes through loud and clear through Get Out, and he speaks for many people, not only black people but anyone under oppression, and all the while thoroughly entertaining his audience. He’s paved the way for a new kind of horror and has become one of the people at the forefront of true diversity in cinema.

– Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread)

Phantom Thread may not be the strongest against stiff competition, but Anderson’s skill as a director is still a sight to behold. In the wrong hands this film could have been a stagnent portrayal of an older man having a crisis and trying to get his kicks where he can and a young woman suffering some kind of pyschotic breakdown. But Anderson’s careful to ensure his film speaks in an honest way through all his main characters and does a great job of leading Daniel Day-Lewis through his self-declared final performance.

****

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Best Actress in a Leading Role

– Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)

McDormand’s performance as Mildred, a mother still trying to get justice seven months on from her daughter’s unsolved murder, is filled with emotion and some real black comedy. It’s not an easy performance to pull off by McDormand is both a natural and a veteran of her craft. Anyone who has felt the death of a loved one will relate to Mildred on every level, from her torment to her need to keep going. McDormand has already been awarded the BAFTA and Golden Globe for her performance, just pipping Sally Hawkins to it each time, but will she be able to secure a third triumph?

– Margot Robbie (I, Tonya)

This is one of two performances I cannot yet comment on having not yet seen I, Tonya, however having seen a good few of Robbie’s performances to date it’s no real surprise she is on this list. An astounding actress for her age, Robbie always more than commits to her roles and always produces something remarkable that keeps audiences coming back to see her. Thus far her co-star, Allison Janney, has proven more successful in her supporting actress role (BAFTA and Golden Globe wins with an Oscar nomination), effectively stealing the show from Robbie, however it can be an easy assumption that she still stands her own ground in this film.

– Meryl Streep (The Post)

What is there to say about Meryl Streep? Essentially a regular on this list, Streep is one of the top actresses of all time. But is her role in The Post actually worth the nomination, or is it just becoming tradition to nominate the Streep? Frankly, her nomination here is entirely worth it. Whilst previous roles she has been nominated for have been stronger (Sophie in Sophie’s Choice and Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady) her role as Kay Graham is still a sturdy and important one. Streep outshines her co-star, Tom Hanks, and plays an understated but very present character, who has a strong voice that she is unaware of. Streep plays the naievety and growing strength of Graham to absolute perfection and is a real contender for the award this year.

– Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water)

Hawkins’ performance as the mute Elisa in The Shape of Water is perhaps the underdog of the catergory. As unorthodox as they come, her performance is beautiful and emotional, with Hawkins’ commitment to the role truly palpable throughout the film. She has so far been outdone on the awards circuit by McDormand’s Three Billboards performance, so it’ll be interesting to see how she fairs at the Oscars. Personally, I would like to see Hawkins win this one. Such a unique and standout performance deserves a win.

– Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird)

Her role as Lady Bird feels like it came easy to Ronan – she encapsulates the character so brilliantly it almost feels like a documentary following a girl in a year-in-the-life-of. Not once does she falter, her ability to draw you in remaining constant throughout. Ronan is up against some real stalwarts this year, and she is unlikely to triumph, but that’s not to say her nomination isn’t well deserved, because, just like all the actresses on this list, it well and truly is.

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Best Actor in a Leading Role

– Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread)

As far as final performances go, this isn’t a particular stand-out. Day-Lewis has been considered one of Britain’s best actors for a very long time, and rightly so. His ability to lose himsef in his characters is fantastic. His performance as Reynolds Woodcock is certainly noteworthy, but he is often outshone by his co-star, Vicky Krieps, who has received no mainstream award recognition for her performance as Woodcock’s muse and opposite, Alma. Perhaps the fact he has declared his retirement post-Phantom Thread has affected his chances in order to go out with a bang, however there are arguably some more worthy nominations on this list.

– Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)

It can’t be easy to sit wide-eyed with tears streaming and acting terrified, but Kaluuya shows off his acting talents by doing exactly that, and more, in Get Out. His performance is engaging and unpredictable (in a good way) and shows off his range. Having won the title of Rising Star at this year’s BAFTAs, Kaluuya has only just begun what could be a very lengthy and successful career. He is up against some very experienced and talented actors in this category, but he is in good (and the right) company.

– Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)

Washington’s performance here is the second one I cannot pass comment on having not seen it. However, just like Margot Robbie, Washington is a very well-decorated actor already, having one win and several nominations to his name for Best Actor at previous Oscar ceremonies. His work is always strong and highly commendable, and hopefully this is indeed proven once again through his work on Roman J. Israel Esq.

– Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)

Quite possibly the forerunner for the award this year, Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill has had all of the praise rained down upon it. And Oldman is indeed fantastic, once again showcasing why he is one of Britain, and the world’s, very finest actors. As Churchill, Oldman completely dissolves and, with the help of a brilliant script and superb make up and costuming (the latter two both also receiving Oscar nominations, respectively), is replaced by an uncanny Churchill. His absolute commitment to the role and making it as authentic as possible would make a win all the more worthwhile. Oldman thoroughly deserves a Best Actor win.

– Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name)

The third youngest male since 1939 to be nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award, Chalamet’s performance as Elio in Call Me by Your Name is remarkable for someone of such a young age. He is a natural, pure talent, and it’s unsurprising he is starting to pop up in other films of late (including as smaller role in Lady Bird). Just like Daniel Kaluuya, it can’t be easy to be up against the likes of Gary Oldman and Denzel Washington, but again also like Kaluuya, Chalamet has more than earned his spot on the nominations. It wouldn’t be a total surprise if he were to come out on top.

****

Judging by other recent awards, general consensus and overall criticism, the winners are looking likely to be:
Best Picture: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Director: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Best Actress: Frances McDormand
Best Actor: Gary Oldman

It would be very nice to see some fresh faces win, however. My preferences would be:
Best Picture: Call Me by Your Name
Best Director: Guillermo del Toro
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins
Best Actor: Gary Oldman or Timothée Chalamet

However it turns out, all involved are extremely talented at their particular art forms, and, ever the diplomatic platitude, all are true winners really.

The 90th Academy Awards: 4th March 2018

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