Oscars, 2018: The Aftermath

by MATT STOKES | MARCH 5, 2018

I got very into the Oscars race this year because, unlike the past few years, I was very invested in seeing a particular movie (Get Out) win. I’ve also actually seen most of these movies. People complaining about not having the time to see movies is annoying, I know, but with a 1.5-year-old at the house it’s really hard to see things in theaters. So when these movies came to streaming the past few weeks, I was able to see most of them in the days leading up to Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. My opinions, therefore, are sturdy and ironclad and based on much careful consideration.

I used to write about the Oscars every year. I love the Oscars—the history, the trivia, the politics, how often they get things wrong, and even the ceremony itself. Looking back on my old predictions and recaps, I see how much I was wrong about. I called great movies terrible and terrible movies great. I said The Reader was the best movie of 2008. I said Avatar was garbage (I love it now.). So it’s hard to know what I’m going to say that I’ll stand by a few years from now, but my goal is to document my feelings of the moment.

As it stands right now, I still haven’t seen The Shape Of Water, the Best Picture winner. Is it stupid to write about any of this without seeing the most-nominated movie? Yes it is. I also haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049I Tonya, and Call Me By Your Name. I will see all of them soon. My number-one movie of 2017 is Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which was not was not nominated for any of the major awards. My number-two movie is A Ghost Story. It was completely unnominated. After that, my favorite movies are largely in this pool of Oscar contenders, so let’s get to analyzing what happened last night.

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Christopher Plummer (All the Money In the World), Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Should’ve Been Nominated: Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
Betting Favorite: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Winner: Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should’ve Been the Winner: TBD

Winner: Sam Rockwell

I have not seen The Florida Project yet but by all accounts it’s a great movie and Dafoe is terrific. A few months ago he was considered one of the biggest frontrunners in Oscar history for this award, but then Sam Rockwell tore through the pre-Oscars awards circuit, so his win was a foregone conclusion.

Rockwell is quite good in Three Billboards, a movie that drove me crazy in part because of his character. But he always makes a movie more interesting with his presence, and I’m glad he’s getting recognition for a performance that’s probably my sixth-favorite I’ve ever seen from him.

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)
Should’ve Been Nominated: Rooney Mara (A Ghost Story)
Betting Favorite: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Winner: Allison Janney (I, Tonya)
Should’ve Been the Winner: Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)

Winner: Allison Janney

If you are starting to get annoyed at my not having opinions about these awards because I haven’t seen all the movies, I regret to say I haven’t seen I Tonya. Janney was a big favorite to win this award, but I thought it’d be hard for anyone to be better than Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird, who did such an amazing job of showing an overworked, well-intentioned mother who nevertheless can be petty toward her daughter without it meaning that she is a bad parent.

Then they showed the clips of the nominees and, when Manville in Phantom Thread told Day-Lewis she’d destroy him, I was like, “HOLY SHIT SHE’S THE BEST.”

Then they showed Metcalf in Lady Bird and I was like, “HOLY SHIT SHE TOO IS THE BEST!” So two people are the best! I’m going to stick with my priors, though, and I continue to say Metcalf should have won this award.

Best Actor

Nominees: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me By Your Name), Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)
Betting Favorite: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Winner: Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour)
Should’ve Been the Winner: Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out)

Winner: Gary Oldman

Veteran actors will often be coronated in advance of the Oscars for a role that is generally acknowledged as fine work, but with the understanding that the award also honors a career’s worth of performances. These roles often depict real-life figures, so the performer’s impersonation of the well-known person is baked into the evaluation of the performance. If heavy makeup and prosthetics are involved, all the better. Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour was widely known to be part of this tradition—he gives a great performance in a traditionally Oscar-friendly film that otherwise has little to recommend it. Conventional wisdom has it that Darkest Hour is, in short, Oldman’s version of Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady.

But that’s wrong, because Darkest Hour is a better film than The Iron Lady and has much to recommend it. It’s in the recent tradition of historical pictures that focus in on one short stretch of time to inform us about the larger life of the important person (think The Queen and Lincoln). Gary Oldman is outstanding, yes, but the movie is filled with great performances, especially Ben Mendelsohn as King George. Because Mendelsohn is playing the same person Colin Firth played in The King’s Speech, comparisons between the two movies are inevitable, but Darkest Hour is the superior film. It’s funny, thrilling, and subversive. Its most important and daring idea is to confront Churchill’s infamous alcoholism by literally showing that the man was drunk at all times. It’s neither a source of comedy nor shame, it’s just treated as a fact of Churchill’s existence, and we see how much of a problem it is that the prime minister could barely think straight.

It’s also a severely flawed movie that indulges in the worst traits of the genre—rousing speeches underpinned by a swelling orchestral score, the doe-eyed typist who works for Churchill and is mouthing his big speech along with him, on-the-nose folksy wisdom from the London commoners Churchill meets on the tube. I wish the movie had realized it didn’t need to lean on those tropes.

Oldman is great. Congratulations, Commissioner.

Daniel Kaluuya should have won this award.

I watched Get Out again this weekend and was even more in love with it, but was struck most by how incredible Kaluuya’s performance is. He is asked to do so much in the film that you don’t notice the first time around. He’s playing a subdued character who has learned to navigate his tricky world. He gives the most perfect “Mm hmm” responses to Allison Williams in a scene midway through the movie as she’s complaining about how her family is treating him. His task is to tow a very careful line, to not disagree with her but to also not agree with her too much but also to show that he knows exactly what is going on and even warned her that it would happen, and he wants validation both because he has the experience navigating the world as a black man that she as a white woman does not, and also he wants to be right because he’s a boyfriend who wants a victory. It’s amazing. Chris (Kaluuya’s character) continues his mental calculus through the very end of the movie, and it’s probably what saves him as he’s able to navigate the increasingly insane things that happen.

It’s not a showy performance, but the movie would not work without it. It’s the kind of acting job the Academy tends not to even nominate, so I suppose we should be thankful that he was recognized at all and that he was widely considered the runner-up to Oldman. I hope one day we don’t assume that showy performances like Oldman’s are automatically slotted in as winners.

Best Actress

Nominees: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Saorise Ronan (Lady Bird), Meryl Streep (The Post)
Should’ve Been Nominated: Vicky Creeps (Phantom Thread)
Betting Favorite: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Winner: Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should’ve Been the Winner: Saorise Ronan (Lady Bird)

Winner: Frances McDormand

This was a chalky Oscars, and McDormand’s win for Best Actress was one of the most foregone conclusions of the night. She gave an outstanding speech that was all the more remarkable because, when she won Best Actress for Fargo, her acceptance speech at the time (1997) implored filmmakers to write more dynamic roles for women. This speech was a sequel to that speech, and I loved it because it had practical action items for the audience: Look at all the remarkable women in the room, and then, a few days from now, have meetings with them and talk to them about financing their projects. She concluded her speech with, “Two words: inclusion rider.” An inclusion rider is a provision in an actor’s contract stipulating that a movie’s production reach a hiring threshold for women and people of color. It’s a way of empowering the people who already have clout (stars with the weight to make such demands) to make immediate, significant progress. McDormand did an outstanding, smart job with this speech that I think can actually make a real difference.

But Three Billboards as a movie? I found it entertaining but maddening. It’s a good thing that a film can do that, I suppose, but I spent most of the running time exasperated by how profound the film seemed to think it was. Much of the negative criticism the film has received comes from the movie seeming to redeem a racist cop (Sam Rockwell), by not including any people of color who have any depth or agency (And, crucially, by not showing the African American victim of Rockwell’s police brutality.) and by creating a make-believe small American town unlike anything that probably exists today. All of that is valid, but my reaction to the movie as it stands is not exceedingly positive. McDormand and Rockwell are very good, and I would enjoy a full movie of the two of them driving in a car on a mission, debating whether or not they should actually go through with their plan. But I also didn’t believe a lot of what they and everyone else in the movie did or said. Characters toggle between violent rage to compassion for each other and back again so quickly as to erase any stakes. If a moment of genuine connection between two nemeses can be negated instantly, then why should I care?

Best Animated Feature

Nominees: The Boss Baby, The Breadwinner, Coco, Ferdinand, Loving Vincent
Should’ve Been Nominated: Captain Underpants: The First Epic MovieThe Lego Batman Movie
Betting Favorite: Coco
Winner: Coco
Should’ve Been the Winner: Coco

Winner: Coco

Coco was the biggest favorite of the night, and it’s easy to understand why. In the grand scheme of Pixar, I’d say it’s upper-middle tier—below Wall-ERatatouille, and the Toy Story films but right alongside Inside Out and The Incredibles.I)Pixar ranking debates can get volatile. The most contrarian opinion I have about anything in the world is that the Cars movies, even Cars 2, are good. It’s a wonderful movie. The world of the dead might be my single favorite Pixar universe, and I can hardly look at Mama Coco without tearing up.

That being said, The Lego Batman Movie was almost as good, and it went unrecognized. Many have complained that The Boss Baby and Ferdinand were nominated over Lego Batman, and with good reason. But a movie that was criminally underrated by both the Oscars and the moviegoing public was Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. My kid is obsessed with the Captain Underpants books so we know them inside and out, but the film managed to capture its charm and humor and good cheer without losing anything. See Captain Underpants.

Best Director

Nominees: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Jordan Peele (Get Out), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Should’ve Been Nominated: Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)
Betting Favorite: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Winner: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Should’ve Been the Winner: Jordan Peele (Get Out)

Winner: Guillermo del Toro

The Best Picture/Best Director split was a relative rarity until the past few years. Before last night, four out of the last five Best Picture-winning movies did not also win Best Director. Before the recent trend of splits, the Best Director winner was generally considered the superior film when the awards split (think Born On the Fourth Of July over Driving Miss DaisySaving Private Ryan over Shakespeare in LoveBrokeback Mountain over Crash), but the critical consensus seems recently to have reversed. The Revenant won Best Director for 2015, but the more beloved Spotlight won Best Picture; last year, La La Land won Best Director but Moonlight took home Best Picture. I think this is because when the Academy expanded the pool of Best Picture nominees and overhauled the voting process, it opened the door for more “underdog” movies to win Best Picture but lock off those same movies from the other awards. I predicted that, this year, we’d see the more traditional The Shape Of Water win Best Director and Get Out would be the surprise Best Picture winner. That did not happen.

I have not seen The Shape Of Water. I am sure I will love it. I have not loved Guillermo del Toro’s movies aside from Pan’s Labyrinth (he’s big on the fliffity-floo), but he is a likable person and I love his passion for film, so I am happy for him. I just wish Jordan Peele had won.

Best Picture

NomineesCall Me By Your NameDarkest HourDunkirkGet OutLady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Should’ve Been NominatedStar Wars: The Last Jedi
Betting FavoriteThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 
Winner: The Shape Of Water
Should’ve Been the Winner: Get Out
I Am Glad This Didn’t WinThree Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Winner: The Shape Of Water

I’ve not yet seen The Shape Of Water and, again, I’m sure I’ll love it when I see it in the next few days. I just get the sense that this was a King’s Speech/Social Network situation where, in a few years, it’ll be pointed to as an obvious example of the Academy getting it wrong and honoring the safer, more traditional movie over the better, more important one. It is progress that the movie considered “traditional” here is a monster movie about a fish man and a mute woman falling in love with each other. I hope that movies like Get Out eventually are seen as traditional too.

The betting markets actually had Three Billboards as the favorite prior to the ceremony, and I was worried it would win. Although maybe, considering how often the Academy gets things wrong, it’d have been better for Shape Of Water if Three Billboards had won.

I like the Oscars. I like this kind of stuff. I even like the montages! I liked Jimmy Kimmel, liked the jet ski and the bits, liked Tiffany Haddish and Kumail Nanjiani and James Ivory.

I liked how politics were handled. One year ago, the mood of the evening was one of unity against the brand-new Trump Administration. It felt impotent. This year, Hollywood is examining itself, and that seems much more promising. Frances McDormand’s speech was just one example of how actual change can be made in the world when people who think of themselves as good guys do more than say the right things and clap at the right moments.

UPDATE: I saw The Shape Of Water on March 18, two weeks after the Oscars. I loved it! Great movie! Still wouldn’t pick it over Get Out. Also, it is TOTALLY an Oscar-friendly movie. The presence of the fish man is the only non-King’s Speech element in it. It’s a period piece set in a highly stylized America with love for movies (and movie theaters) as a recurring motif. Not a surprise at all that Oscar voters went for it.

My personal Top-Ten Films of 2017:

10. Baahubali 2: The Conclusion 

9. Wonder Woman

8. Dunkirk

7. The Post 

6. The Shape Of Water

5. Phantom Thread

4. Lady Bird 

3. Get Out 

2. A Ghost Story

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I also loved these movies…

The Big Sick

Captain Underpants

Coco

Darkest Hour

Guardians Of the Galaxy, vol. 2

Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle

The Lego Batman Movie

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Thor: Ragnarok

 

I haven’t seen these movies, because I suck…

Blade Runner 2049

Call Me By Your Name

The Disaster Artist

The Florida Project

I Tonya

The Killing Of a Sacred Deer

Marjorie Prime

Mudbound

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5 + 12 =

Oscars Coverage From Years Past…

FEBRUARY 27, 2012

FEBRUARY 27, 2011

MARCH 5, 2010

FEBRUARY 24, 2009

Footnotes   [ + ]

I. Pixar ranking debates can get volatile. The most contrarian opinion I have about anything in the world is that the Cars movies, even Cars 2, are good.