2018 Oscar Nominations: A Conversation

The Oscars are one of my favorite times of year, where movies come as close as possible to taking over whatever remains of the monoculture. Not an individual film, but the abstract idea of “the movies.” For all of their flaws, they are still the only major awards show that manages to capture my interest. So there I was, Tuesday morning, coffee at the ready, watching Tiffany Haddish and Andy Serkis tell us who this year’s crop of nominees are.

It’s all very exciting to me, and the pageantry mostly works for me. Those little videos they had for some of the categories were nice, but maybe better for the actual ceremony? Anyway, I think I had the same reaction as I typically have: mostly pleased with my expectations, with a few surprises and disappointments. I reached out to fellow Cinedelphian Andy Elijah to get his reaction to the nominations.

Ryan: I saw you all over Twitter making nomination predictions. How did you do?

Andy: I did decently. I predicted correctly eight out of the nine Best Picture nominations (I was wrong about The Florida Project unfortunately, which I was sure would get a nomination), and nailed all five Best Actress nominations (the five of which were pretty much a lock in my opinion). Otherwise I got two to three predictions correct in the other major categories. Fortunately, most of what I got wrong turned out to be pleasant surprises. For example, I thought that Tom Hanks (The Post) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger) would be nominated in the Best Actor category, but instead we got Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq). That makes things much more interesting, for sure.

How did YOU do?

Ryan: I didn’t make any specific predictions, but I was curious about a few things. Definitely was disappointed that The Florida Project didn’t get more love, but I was really expecting James Franco to get a nomination for The Disaster Artist. In some ways, him not getting one is for the best given the allegations that have surfaced since his Golden Globe win. I wasn’t expecting Denzel Washington to get in there, since I had already forgotten Roman J. Israel, Esq. was a movie that came out last year. I would have liked to see someone else in there to represent a movie I loved, but no matter. For me the bigger surprises were Christopher Plummer getting nominated for All the Money in the World, and some pleasant surprises in the screenplay categories. Logan and The Big Sick getting the nod in those categories is really heartwarming to me.

Andy: There is no such thing as a bad Denzel Washington performance, so it isn’t a surprise that he got nominated for Best Actor. But it is a surprise that it was for this movie, Roman J. Israel, Esq., a movie I have heard almost no one talk about and got universally panned when it played at Toronto last September. I have seen the movie myself, and while they significantly improved it in the editing room after the poor audience reception, it still feels very uneven, like a strange mash up of Rain Man and The Verdict that nobody asked for. Denzel plays a lawyer with significant social skill deficits, a brilliant man dedicated to his cause but whose savant gifts keep him from connecting with others around him. It’s just a weird movie, and while he still manages to turn in a great performance, it’s just an all around questionable movie. Best Actor doesn’t mean Best Actor In A Great Movie though, and the movie aims (poorly) for that kind of social consciousness that Oscar voters always love to promote.

Did the Christopher Plummer vote feel almost like a continuation of the Christopher Plummer substitute meme to you? I didn’t see All The Money In The World but I am sure he is great in it- he’s always great! Do you think Kevin Spacey would have gotten the nomination had the allegations not surfaced and he had stayed in the picture? It’s a role that seems purposely written for an Oscar nomination.

Still, there are many in the Supporting Actor field I would have rather seen nominated, people who did a great job in actually great movies. Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg each deserved one for Call Me By Your Name. At the end of the day though, people are going to remember Call Me By Your Name forever, and no one will remember All The Money In The World except for the onset drama revolving the last minute Plummer subsitute and the Michelle Williams/Mark Wahlberg pay inequality. I also didn’t think Woody Harrelson was anything special in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. By now, that type of moody, sarcastic, well intentioned police officer is a role he can do in his sleep. I also was hoping for a nod for Ray Romano for The Big Sick. He’s been around forever but never gotten recognition, and The Big Sick was literally a perfect use of his talents.

I am complaining a lot here, but in general I was pleased with the nominations. The thing to remember is that a lot of movies that don’t get nominated are still remembered, sometimes far more than movies that are actually nominated. Do a quick rundown of past Oscar nominations for movies from the 1990’s or the 1980’s, and they are full of performances from movies you have never heard of, movies that don’t really last in the cultural canon. So what I am saying is that, it’s not like the Oscars are a time capsule of the only movies we are going to think about from 2017. I believe it was our companion Dan Scully who quizzed me to name my favorite movie of 1988- it was of course Die Hard. Did that get nominated for Best Picture? Obviously not. Rain Man won that year. Is Die Hard better than Rain Man? Times a million, of course.

Ryan: I haven’t seen All the Money in the World either, but I can’t think that Kevin Spacey would have been nominated, but mostly because I think the Academy just loves them some Plummer for some reason. This is his third nomination in the last 10 years! I do agree with you about Woody Harrelson, and I would have loved to see The Big Sick land a nomination in either Supporting category for either Romano or Holly Hunter. They both give great performances, and comedy is so underrepresented at the Oscars. I also need to shout out that if Willem Defoe doesn’t win, it better go to Richard Jenkins, who is an absolute treasure of an actor. He’s so good he makes it look easy.

I feel like Die Hard would have a better shot at the nomination in 2017 than in 1988, but I will remind you that Rain Man is pretty great, and was also the highest-grossing film of that year as well. There are movies from 2005 that I’ve never heard of that had nominated performances.  But I think that says more about me. So without getting into a swirl about how or why we remember things, I just want to say that I don’t ever expect for an Oscar nominee slate to reflect my personal taste in film. And I think while there are always a few misses, this year’s lineup feels like it captures a good representation of mainstream films that are all pretty personal works of art. Lady Bird, Shape of Water, Get Out, and even Dunkirk are films that feel very creator-first in a way that Rain Man doesn’t necessarily. So I think for this era of film, these are the films that captured a lot of my thoughts and emotions this year (though I will always own up to my taste being fairly mainstream).

Andy: These are all good points. I think it is very possible that, had Die Hard come out today, it could have been nominated for Best Picture. One of the reasons why I think it is ultimately good that the Best Picture field has expanded is that it makes room for more genre-based movies to receive attention. We live in a world where Mad Max: Fury Road, The Shape Of Water and Get Out all have been nominated. Dunkirk is also a little different than usual in that it is a big summer war movie. In fact, Nolan wanted it specifically to come out in the summer so that it could offer people that kind of blockbuster experience. These films are nominated because not only are they great films, but they all have something to say. They happen to use the language of genre films to say it. The Academy is no longer just about honoring “prestige” films, biopics, period pieces, etc. I used to be against the expansion of the field from 5 to 9 or 10, but I like it now.

I agree that the Academy needs to get over its bias against comedy. They had several chances to go nominate comedies this year- Tiffany Haddish for Girls Trip, the aforementioned cast of The Big Sick, etc. (I don’t see Three Billboards as much of a comedy, even though it is often funny). My favorite performances of the year are often the ones that make me laugh a lot, but the Academy seems to always defer to the more “important.” Paul Walter Hauser in I, Tonya, had several of the funniest moments of the year, but he had no chance when it came to getting a nomination. Now that action and horror films are getting their due, I hope that comedies will get their due again.

What are your thoughts on the screenplay categories? They all seem good and deserving. This is a category that often eludes me, and feels more unpredictable.

RyanI think the screenplay categories are my favorites because they are a little more left of field, and I think I understand what the categories are intending to award a little bit more than some of the other categories like editing or the sound ones. I love how diverse the two categories are in terms of the films represented. Disaster Artist and Logan could not be more different, but both are equally impressive at taking a sideways look at the source material in order to create an experience that works as well on screen as it does on the page. To have a superhero movie recognized alongside Aaron Sorkin and James Ivory is really fun.

The original screenplay nominees are the category of people I would most like to have a dinner party with at this moment. I would sit Greta Gerwig to my right, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani to my right, Jordan Peele next to them, Guillermo del Toro at the other end, with Vanessa Taylor and Martin McDonagh between him and Gerwig. Sigh. Anyway, these are some of the funniest, most interesting people, who-from the words on up-created films that mean a lot to them but have also deeply connected with many audiences as well. If these were also the 5 best picture nominees, I wouldn’t be too upset about it. I have similar thoughts about director, but including Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson seems correct, though I haven’t seen Phantom Thread just yet.

If I had it my way, I’d give Lady Bird Best Picture and Nolan Best Director. What say you?

Andy: It’s too bad that Phantom Thread got left out of the Best Screenplay category. It’s such a visual, aural, and performance-based feast that it’s easy to forget all the impeccable dialogue. I also feel like eating my shoe a little right now, since I just talked about how the Oscars ignore comedies, but we have The Disaster Artist, Lady Bird, Three Billboards and The Big Sick up for screenplay awards. Those are all movies with a lot of humor.

I guess a script is a hard thing for me to judge, for when I am watching a movie it doesn’t always stand out, even if it’s working brilliantly. Not all movies need us to fall in love with the way their characters talk, like say, Quentin Tarantino movies, for them to be great scripts. For example, I don’t remember much of the dialogue from The Shape Of Water, because a lot of it isn’t very showy- but it works in service of the story.

If I had it my way, I would give Best Picture to Call Me By Your Name, which was my #6 movie of the year, and the highest ranked for me personally of the Best Picture nominees. I say that because literally, it’s my favorite movie on that list. Simple enough, right? But I think it’s going to come down to Get Out or The Post. They feel like the two most topical films on that list, and they are both great. And Get Out is simply the film of 2017, even if it isn’t the best one. It was an unstoppable money maker on a tiny budget from a first time filmmaker, one that firmly planted itself in the zeitgeist more than any non-franchise movie in recent memory. I don’t need to get into all the topically relevant aspects of it. For that reason, I think that Jordan Peele is going to get Best Director. I am sure he didn’t know it was going to take off the way it did, but he conceived of this story, this cast, this execution, this vision- he made it happen. There’s probably a bit of luck thrown in there, but they say that luck is just the residue of hard work.

But Nolan would be a great choice as well. Dunkirk is a MASSIVE film, and a gargantuan production to pull off. He put fucking IMAX cameras on WWII era spitfire airplanes and filmed them in mid air. He’s a master of our time and he deserves a Best Director nod one of these days, if not for Dunkirk. 

Ryan: Let me round this out by making my predictions. I think The Shape of Water will win because it will likely be the second or third ranked film for a lot of people as well as a lot of voters’ number one. I think Lady Bird and Get Out will likely split the “Millennial” Oscar votes and will keep either one from getting the top prize. It’s amazing to me that my personal top 3 films are all in the running, but I don’t think The Post has enough broad support in the other branches for it to win. I’m also going to call del Toro for director, mostly because only 5 directors have won best director for their first feature film, and my impression is that the Academy likes del Toro more than Nolan or Anderson.

Keep an eye here on Cinedelphia for our thoughts in the lead to “the movies” biggest night of the year!

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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