Oscar Nominations: Surprises, Joys and Disappointments
Bruce: People who follow the Oscar races closely, as you and I do, are always looking for happy surprises when the nominations are finally announced. Unexpected nominees are few this year, but there's one film I was super excited to see rack up a few nods: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. Who'da thought?
Edwin: Well, it had the Coen brother pedigree going for it, but I figured the Academy voters only had room for one Netflix movie this year. Adapted Screenplay and Costume Design nods recognize well-deserved craft, and naming "When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” a finalist for Best Original Song shows that this fuddy-duddy organization has a operational funny bone. Speaking of “the other Netflix movie,” I wasn’t expecting Roma to land a pair of acting noms and surprise technical ones atop its all but assured categories, thereby topping A Star Is Born in the numbers race.
Bruce: Those nominations were indeed the other big surprise, but well deserved, especially for newcomer Yalitza Aparicio. Playing a well-off Mexican family's taken-for-granted domestic, her largely restrained performance brings a lot of heart and humanity to a movie that's chiefly a demonstration of directorial panache. Another surprise, in the Best Director category, was the inclusion of Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War, thus leaving no room for Bradley Cooper. I thought Cooper was a lock for A Star Is Born, given the Academy's affection for actors who turn director.
Edwin: Cooper was recognized for everything else he did with that film (Best Actor and Adapted Screenplay), but seemed a near lock for his direction as well. Either Pawlikowski or Adam McKay could be accused of stealing his spot, but at least that means no Peter Farrelly for Green Book! Cold War as a finalist for Best Cinematography is also questionable (I feel acclaimed B&W films often receive too much credit in that category), though not as much of a shock as Never Look Away landing there and in Best Foreign Language Film. I just requested us links from Sony Pictures Classics, so I guess we’ll soon see if it’s deserving.
Bruce: Let's hope Never Look Away will be coming to Asheville soon, now that it's an Oscar contender. While the lovely If Beale Street Could Talk is still at the Fine Arts and Roma hangs on at the Grail Moviehouse — along with The Wife, Vice and Green Book — most of the other big contenders have come and gone. Of course, you can still see Bohemian Rhapsody at Asheville Pizza — if you buy your tickets far enough in advance. What do you make of that film's five nominations?
Edwin: People really love Queen, I guess. Its nominations for Sound Editing and Mixing and especially Best Editing seem linked to its marvelous closing 20 minutes, but having it up for Best Picture and Rami Malek as a Best Actor finalist are such populist choices that it almost hurts. Is Malek’s Freddie Mercury really a better mainstream pick than Chadwick Boseman for Black Panther? And does anyone sane think Viggo Mortensen in Green Book is a stronger performance than John David Washington’s magnificent turn in BlacKkKlansman?
Bruce: It's a real shame that Washington was passed over while his white co-star, Adam Driver, was nominated. Driver was his reliable self, but where is Timothee Chalamet for Beautiful Boy? The leading nominations played to the popular and the buzzy more than usual this year, even if Black Panther was snubbed for acting and directing. The few exceptions were gratifying, including three nominations for one of my favorites of the year, Can You Ever Forgive Me? I never thought I'd be overjoyed to see Melissa McCarthy get an Oscar nomination.
Edwin: As a longtime Gilmore Girls fan, I knew McCarthy was capable of greatness and hope she’s outgrown her tired “bull in a china shop” routine — or at least that it’ll arrive less frequently. Much as it moved me, I never got the sense Beautiful Boy made the kind of impact necessary to break through with the Academy, yet Willem Dafoe’s Vincent van Gogh in the intrusive, plodding At Eternity’s Gate apparently did. I guess that's their 2019 version of being edgy, along with Best Documentary Feature, in which box office titans (relatively speaking) Won’t You Be My Neighbor and Three Identical Strangers were snubbed.
Bruce: I would call the Dafoe nomination less "edgy" than rote: Beloved actor, much nominated in the past, plays a tortured real person. Paging Oscar! The fact that the film is unwatchable may not have mattered if the voters felt like they didn't need to watch it to make the call. On the other hand, the documentary category, as I understand it, has some rigor to the nomination process, so those narrowing the shortlist to the five nominees may actually have seen the films. That means lesser known nominees Hale County This Morning, This Evening and Of Fathers and Sons may be really good. Paging the Grail!
Edwin: Exactly! Put them on a split bill the same week as the Short Films programs and call it a completist day. I’ve heard good things about Hale County but know little about Fathers nor Mirai, this year’s token obscure foreign language nominee in Best Animated Feature. I can, however, vouch for Capernaum, the searing Lebanese drama that’s destined to lose to Roma in the Best Foreign Film category. Any other oddballs or unknowns stand out to you?
Bruce: I feel obligated to put in a plug for a movie I didn't much like that ought to be the front runner in a few categories: First Man. While I thought the moon landing drama was misdirected, in many senses, the visual and sound effects were spectacular. These weren't the CG cascades of fellow Visual Effects nominees Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One or Solo, impressive though those were, nor the Disney magic of surprise (but well earned) fifth nominee Christopher Robin. First Man put you in a rocket to the moon better than any film has done before and made you feel like you were there when you arrived. I'm totally rooting for First Man for effects, even if the human drama made me cringe. What underdogs will you be pulling for?
Edwin: Even with its somewhat early October release, I didn’t figure First Man to be an Oscar outsider until it too failed to catch on, but so it goes. I concur that it merits recognition for its sound and visual effects, and I’ll also be rooting for apparent long shot Isle of Dogs in Best Animated Feature, the one-two Can You Ever Forgive Me? punch of McCarthy and Richard E. Grant, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed script in Best Original Screenplay (especially with Ethan Hawke not up for Best Actor), and my man Spike Lee for Best Director and anywhere else his BlacKkKlansman is in contention — including Best Picture. How about you?
Bruce: I back all those choices, save Original Screenplay. While Schrader is long overdue for Oscar recognition, I'm pulling for The Favourite, which I thought was one of the wittiest and best-written movies of the year. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind seeing that other long-overdue icon, Glenn Close, taking the Best Actress statuette over the equally wonderful McCarthy and The Favourite's Olivia Colman. Indeed, every nominee in that category would make me happy in some way. Grant's win for Supporting Actor is my most heartfelt wish this year, and as enjoyable as RBG is, I would really like the mesmerizing Free Solo to win the Documentary Feature prize. We'll have to reconvene to talk about all the short films.
Edwin: Indeed. Though some stretch the definition of “short,” I look forward to viewing these programs each year. So far, the only one I’ve seen from those three categories is Pixar’s disturbing Bao, which gave me the willies prior to the start of Incredibles 2. Correctly choosing those winners can make the difference in Oscar pools, though as with many categories, it’s still largely guesswork.
(Photo: Copyright MPAA)