Split Decision: Adding to the Oscar Nominations
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
If you could add 1 Oscar nomination in any category, what would you add and why?
I always find the Oscar nominations more interesting than the awards themselves. But I was particularly angry by the lack of a nomination for Caroline, Celine Held and Logan George's stunning Live Action short film from the category I care most about. (I actually screamed FUCK! on the subway platform when I saw the nominees and neither of my shortlisted favorites, Caroline or Wale among them). Not only did Caroline deserve a nomination but now, having seen all the nominees in this category, I am discouraged by 3/5s of the entries, which are not very good and hardly what I would call Oscar-caliber films. Or maybe they are. More often than not, the Academy honors middle of the road filmmaking: See last year's awful The Silent Child, or Sing the year before that... or better yet, DON'T!
Every year the conversation pops up again about gender representation in the Directing category, and while I'm staunchly against turning awards into demographic checklists, I'm very very very much for equal opportunity being given to filmmakers of all backgrounds. When we see limited representation at awards time, it's indicative of scant opportunities for certain filmmakers. This year, it's once again plainly clear that female filmmakers don't have the same opportunities as males. It's even more heartbreaking than usual given that this past year has been absolutely fantastic for female filmmakers. At the top of the list — and easily the biggest Oscar snub in my mind — is Debra Granik for Leave No Trace. Her previous narrative feature, Winter's Bone, came out in 2010. That's almost a decade ago! It took tjat long for her to get back into the spotlight (even after she almost singlehandedly launched Jennifer Lawrence into superstardom) and her return brought us nothing short of a masterpiece.
To watch Leave No Trace is to watch a genius at work. Simply put, nobody could have delivered the product she did (she also co-wrote). Nobody. She undoubtedly deserves to be on the list of nominees for Best Director. Let's hope that this snub doesn't mean we'll have to wait another decade for to hear from her again.
Initially, as in "before this question was asked," my answer was Ethan Hawke for lead actor in First Reformed. But everybody knows he did a good job. The people who care about these things grumble (I know I did), but enough of us out here already felt Hawke deserved a big award that the nomination wouldn't have raised his value all that much. Paul Schrader, Amanda Seyfried and all the incredible supporting actors also deserve award show recognition but, again, they've gotten that recognition already, in other ways. First Reformed is not an underrated film.
I instead wish Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated for her lead performance in The Kindergarten Teacher. This is a movie that came and went quickly, as 99% of Netflix movies do, but Gyllenhaal deserves a big industry stamp of approval for what she accomplished here. She plays a woman with an interest in a young boy's talent and their relationship is a little exploitative, but she's self-aware enough to not be totally exploitative, and it's creepy, but she backs it down when she realizes she's gone too far. A lot of that characterization can be credited to writer/director Sara Colangelo, and, I assume, the Israeli film she's remaking. But Gyllenhaal makes it all come to life, and it's a complicated enough performance that she probably deserves the bulk of the credit for the movie working so well. Sometimes when people describe an actor pulling this trick off, they say "It's like she's playing two different people and she effortlessly switches between the two." And there's something to performances like that. But it makes for dramatically better art if the actor convinces you that all these different impulses are coming from a single, whole character.
I'm just going to say what everyone expects me to say. Timothée Chalamet gave, in my opinion, a ~beautiful~ performance in the otherwise mediocre-at-best Beautiful Boy. Chalamet certainly had no chance of winning the Globe, nor would it have been totally warranted, but I think the following Oscar recognition would have been deserved. Sam Rockwell is excellent in Vice, don't get me wrong, but when you directly compare those two performances it's a no brainer for me.
I am forever going to be upset that Jóhann Jóhannsson's score for Mandy was not able to be nominated for an Academy Award this year. That score moves me in a way I can't quite describe, bringing up melancholy feelings about my past. That shouldn't be possible; that's the kind of feeling that should only come from a piece of music I'm already nostalgic for. Sure, Mandy happens to be my favorite film of the year as well, but I think the score stands on its own as a remarkable piece of work by a great talent that was only just getting started. And that's the other reason I really think this should have gotten a nomination. We sadly lost Jóhannsson in February of last year and I think he deserves to be credited for the fantastic work he had already done in his short time here. I wish we could commemorate his life and work at the ceremony this year. I will be doing so in my heart.
I know he won two years ago for La La Land, but Justin Hurwitz score for First Man is by far my most most listened to score from the year. It retains the jazz influences of his La La Land and Whiplash scores while introducing new elements (like a theremin!) and even a bit of sound design. While the film sometimes feels emotionally flat, there’s no denying the heart-pounding build to epic crescendo during the film’s moon landing sequence.
I would absolutely give Michael B. Jordan a Best Supporting Actor nod for Black Panther. As Erik Killmonger, he was one of the most compelling screen villains I can think of- in that you actually ended up caring pretty deeply for him, despite knowing that he must (would) be defeated. MBJ is simply one of the greatest actors of his generation, and this was one of the most talked about roles in the year's most popular film. It would have been such an easy thing to do, but they had to nominate Sam Rockwell's decent enough goofball George W. impression instead?
The fact that Eighth Grade got NOTHING is both unforgiving and total bullshit, but more proof that Hollywood isn't a champion for the little guy. It was one of the best, and most touching, films of the year and Elsie Fisher gave a performance worthy of a Best Actress Nomination. Eighth Grade, in originality and execution, is a far more masterful film than Green Book, Vice, and Bohemian Rhapsody combined.
Zama didn't have a chance with the Academy, not this year or last year when Argentina submitted it for Foreign Language consideration. Unlike Brazil's City of God, which garnered multiple nominations at the 2004 Oscars after failing to receive a Foreign Language nom the previous year, the Argentine Zama lacked a high-caliber awards campaign that might've sent it into the stratosphere and distinguish it from a thousand other FYCs. (Also, I can't see the decidedly middle-of-the-road voters cheering for a deliberately paced and surreally humorous period film about a guy trying to receive a transfer.) And yet, despite being neither my movie of the year or director Lucrecia Martel's best film, it's a sterling showcase for the Argentinian auteur's myriad gifts and oddball tendencies, thus making Martel's absence from the Best Director category a tragic but anticipated oversight.
Directing is about more than simply pointing the camera at pretty people in pretty locales. Among other responsibilities, it involves commanding tone, guiding narrative (even when the storytelling is at the service of little story), staging/blocking actors throughout space in order to visualize a scene's emotional/dramatic undercurrents, utilizing sound to accentuate on-screen (and off-screen) action/space, crafting actorly behavior that conveys those suggestions lurking behind dialogue and character relationships, and probing given material with personal perspective. It's this last part where Martel really shines, as she's taken a rather hoary postcolonial tract and amplified it with her directorial ethos: juxtaposing scenes of Colonialist intervention with blackly comic absurdities (look out for the llama!); highlighting the titular Corregidor's Americano status which renders him, in the eyes of Spaniards, about as respectable as one of the New World natives; staging deep-focus vistas that frame environs in ways that dwarf characters' bodies – in spite of human meddling, nature thrives and runs its course. Martel probably kissed any future Oscar potential goodbye when she called the ceremony "a joke" last year, but her singular talent is no laughing matter and it's a joy to have her back on the scene.
Regina Hall as Lisa in Support the Girls. I really loved that performance, and it's in a movie that doesn't typically get recognized by the Academy. It's a subtle, understated, role that is so identifiable I guarantee you've had a manager or co-worker like her at some point in your life. In addition to addressing snubs, I really wish the Academy would spread some love on these little film gems that pop-up throughout the year. They may not be "best picture" contenders, but so many of them possess good performances, or good scripts, that are worthy of recognition. It's just so damn disappointing.