While not as glamorous as an affair as the big ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in the Spring, the announcement of the Academy Award nominees is nonetheless an anticipated event. Streamed live from the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverley Hills, announcers Tiffany Haddish and Andy Serkis had some surprises up their sleeves on this Tuesday lunchtime. Let’s take a look at the shocks and snubs in the major categories; and where the Oscar races stand ahead of the handing out of golden statuettes on March 4th.
Best Picture Heading To Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight is having a year to remember, with two of their pictures, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri going head-to-head for a number of the biggest awards, including the most coveted prize of all: Best Picture. The Shape of Water has lead for nominations at most of the major awards ceremonies this season, and continued this trend by raking in a whopping 13 nods, a total bettered only by All About Eve, Titanic and last year’s La La Land in Oscar history. It won the Producers Guild of America and Critics’ Choice Moive Award for Best Picture, putting it in good stead to go all the way with the Academy. Three Billboards will have a say on that though; having won the notoriously Oscar-predictive Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and picked up the Golden Globe earlier this month,. Martin McDonagh will be pleased with his film’s haul of seven nominations, if a bit miffed that he was snubbed for Best Director.
The rest of the nominees were largely as expected, with Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird, Get Out, Dunkirk, and The Post all there. Focus Features will almost have as big a grin on their faces as Fox Searchlight, with Darkest Hour building on strong BAFTA representation to score well here, as well as a pleasantly surprisingly nomination for the much-deserving Phantom Thread, which received some of the best reviews of the year only to be ignored by all the major guilds. Paul Thomas Anderson’s romantic period piece is peaking at just the right time for voters, and Focus’ release strategy much be commended. Mudbound, The Big Sick, The Florida Project, Wonder Woman, and I, Tonya were all locked out.
Acting Awards: A Foregone Conclusion
The Screen Actors Guild Awards are the strongest predictors for Academy success, and with those being handed out a couple of days before the Oscar nominations are announced, we are robbed of a little excitement as we already know who will win.
Best Actor nominees - Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) - were already locks, with Oldman the heavy favourite to win for his portrayal of the early part of Winston Churchill’s premiership. The fifth slot was between Golden Globe winner James Franco (The Disaster Artist) and screen legends Tom Hanks (The Post) and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.). Franco was the front runner for that last slot but sexual misconduct allegations appear to have derailed his campaign, with Washington stepping in as the Academy’s snubbing of former darling Hanks continues.
“The Shape of Water has come into the race strong, with a record 13 nominations”
Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is a sure thing to pick up her second Best Actress win, while Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) were always guarantees for acknowledgement. Annette Bening (Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) was once again given the cold shoulder to allow the Academy to give Meryl Streep (The Post) her customary nomination.
Initial Supporting Actor favourite Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) was expectedly nominated, while new front runner Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), who is sweeping all the awards going, was nominated alongside cast-mate Woody Harrelson, the first dual nominees in this category since Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley for Bugsy in 1991. At the age of 88, Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World) became the oldest ever actor nominated for an Academy Award, a remarkable job considering he stepped in to reshoot the disgraced Kevin Spacey’s scenes in the just over a week, with a day’s notice. Rounding out the Supporting Actor nominees were Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), ending Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg’s hopes of scoring for Call Me by Your Name.
TV stalwarts Allison Janney (I, Tonya) and Laurie Metcalfe (Lady Bird) will do battle for the Supporting Actress award, with Janney widely anticipated to come out victorious. Mary J. Blige (Mudbound) and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) had been fairly good shouts for nods and duly delivered. While Hong Chau (Downsizing), Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour) had hoped to be in with a chance, Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) has come storming through late on for an icy and powerful turn that goes toe-to-toe with the great Daniel Day-Lewis, so much so that she may even be a surprise winner.
Best Director Proves Surprisingly Unpredictable
Well, well, well. Heading into Tuesday, we knew who three of the Best Director nominees would be: Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk). Turns out we didn’t know shit. Golden Globe winner Del Toro and fellow Directors Guild of America nominee Nolan booked their seats at the Dolby Theatre with little fuss. After the clamouring of numerous men and women in the film industry and the general public, riding the wave of momentum provided by the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) followed up her National Board of Review win and Directors Guild nod to become only the fifth female nominee for Best Director in history, and first in almost a decade.
Similarly, Jordan Peele (Get Out), another first time director, became only the fifth black director in history to earn an Academy Award nomination. Regardless of whether you think Gerwig or Peele deserved their spots ahead of BAFTA nominees Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049) and Luca Guadagnino (Call Me by Your Name) or Golden Globe nominees Steven Spielberg (The Post) or Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World), they did earn the highly predictive Directors Guild nominations; so their nods weren’t entirely unexpected, especially given the pressure to reward more female and ethnic minority filmmakers, and the growing diversity in the Academy voting pool.
“Greta Gerwig’s nomination reflects the current climate of Hollywood”
So then the five Directors Guild nominees, Del Toro, Nolan, Gerwig, Peele and McDonagh, were the five Oscar nominees, and everyone lived happily ever after. BUT WAIT! Surefire choice Martin McDonagh was left out. Not for another guild nominee, not for another BAFTA nominee, and not for another Golden Globe nominee. No, in his stead is Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread, a completely out-of-left-field but justified decision. The last couple of years have shown a shift in previous voting trends, with old steadfast predictors being thrown out the window by the younger and more diverse Academy voting pool. While they have been attributed for earning Gerwig and Peele selection amongst the elite, no one seemed to anticipate that they would plum for Anderson, a man who is to many of them their generation’s Kubrick.
Original Screenplay Far More Competitive Than Adapted
Oscar stalwart James Ivory’s script for Call Me by Your Name will win come March – there isn’t any competition. In the end solid efforts from Mudbound, The Disaster Artist, Molly’s Game and Logan made up the rest of the nominees, but it almost feels as though one could have desperately scribbled down the ingredients from the back of a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup on a napkin five minutes before the nominations went out and still been in with a chance of an Adapted Screenplay nod. In stark contrast the Original Screenplay category is hotly contested. Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Jordan Peele (Get Out), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water) collected their projected nominations, while Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani’s The Big Sick managed to gazump Paul Thomas Anderson’s National Board of Review-winning Phantom Thread, even amidst the latter’s startling success. Other hopefuls from The Post, Dunkirk and I, Tonya were rightly left out, though would surely have been amongst the nominees were they competing in the adapted category.
Best Foreign Language Film Wide Open
This is always a tough category to predict. The Academy has a very bizarre and convoluted way of voting, involving bands of films that are then drawn into a shortlist partly by popular vote and partly by the decree of an executive committee, from which five nominees are then chosen (see what I mean when I said ‘convoluted’). Loveless, A Fantastic Woman and Palme d’Or winner The Square all picked up their expected and deserved Foreign Language Film nominations. Golden globe winner In the Fade and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father were both shut out. One would have expected superb Israeli entry Foxtrot to jump in. Yet instead, the also well-received On Body and Soul, and the little-seen The Insult made the cut. It’s a five-horse race from here on out.
Auteur-Driven Blockbusters Dominant Technical Categories
Big budget fayre often sees its best chances of Oscar success in the technical categories, where they can be rewarding for their astonishing visual effects and sound mixing. This year saw a number of directors, many of whom have proven themselves on the indie circuit, take their meticulous visions to the tentpoles. Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049), Rian Johnson (Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi), Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) and Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) will be pleased to see their films pick up five, four, three, and one nomination respectively. Another big budget scorer in the technical categories was Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, also breaking into the higher end of the awards with Best Picture and Best Director nominations.
The Best Cinematography nominations matched up to the American Society of Cinematographers nominations, meaning Rachel Morrison (Mudbound) at long last became the first woman to be acknowledged in that category. That was part of wider success for Netflix, with the streaming network finally cracking the Academy on its way to four nominations (the Academy in general has been more accepting in recent years, and superhero flick Logan also got a major category nomination for Adapted Screenplay, only the second of its kind after Heath Ledger’s Supporting Actor win for The Dark Knight 9 years ago). Unfortunately for Morrison, she will have to wait for a win, as it is surely now Roger Deakins’ time. Forget the likes of DiCaprio, Pacino, Scorsese, and Bridges having well overdue wins; this is Deakins’ 14 nomination, and his stunning work on Blade Runner 2049 is heavily favoured to see him break his duck.
After landmark work in his past collaborations with Paul Thomas, Anderson in There Will Be Blood, The Master and Inherent Vice, Jonny Greenwood (Phantom Thread) finally earns a long outstanding nomination for Original Score. The Radiohead guitarist is up against veterans Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk), John Williams (Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi) and Cater Burwell, while Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water) is the narrow favourite.