Archive | March, 2018

On Thanking Joanne Woodward…

18 Mar

“Joanne Woodward: I want to thank you for your encouragement and generosity…”

Allison Janney, accepting her Oscar (March 4, 2018)

 

Few if any of us were surprised when Allison Janney won this year’s Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, per her to-the-hilt portrayal of  bulldozing LaVona Golden, disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding’s ornery tank of a mom in I, Tonya. Golden is a big personality, to be sure, and Janney played her the only way she could be played: straight over the top, but deftly so, enough that the audience finds her absurdly comic. A feat, that.  In the weeks leading up to the Oscars, Janney took a commanding lead, leaving likely nearest competitor Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), well, back on the ice, let’s just say. Again, no surprise. Janney is a formidable talent whether  in the movies, TV (including Emmy winning roles on Mom and The West Wing), and even Broadway. Her stage credits, btw, include a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical for assuming the role of Violet, originally made famous by Lily Tomlin, in the musical adaptation of 9 to 5.

So, good for her, and, again, no surprise.

JWoodwardOscarGown57_58 (1)

When Joanne Woodward won Best Actress for 1957’s The Three Faces of Eve (as seen here with no less than John Wayne in the background), she rocked a home-sewn emerald-hued strapless gown. She reportedly spent $100.00 on the fabric and worked on it for two weeks. When asked to donate it to a museum in her home state of Georgia, she declined, explaining that she was almost as proud of her handiwork, designing and sewing the dress, as she was of her Oscar (qtd. in Wiley & Bona 290). Meanwhile, Hollywood style maven Joan Crawford was not amused, lamenting that, “by making her own clothes,” Woodward set “the cause of Hollywood glamour back twenty years” (qtd. in Wiley and Bona 291).  Sorry, J.C., but I like the gown, and have from the first time I saw a picture of it, and that was before I knew she made it herself.  IMAGE: http://therecessionista.com/oscar-dress-cost-100-joanne-woodwards-gown/

Yet for all that, Janney’s Oscar victory very much came with a surprise, at least to me, and that was the moment when she offered kind words to no less than Joanne Woodward during her acceptance speech.  Once upon a time, Janney was directed by Joanne Woodward’s husband (you may know him as legendary superstar Paul Newman) in a college production. That is how Janney and Woodward met, and it was Woodward who later encouraged the young actress to move to New York and audition for the Neighborhood Playhouse. Janney did just that, and the rest is history. Indeed, the actresses even worked together in 1993’s Hallmark Hall of Fame TV special, Blind Spot–for which Woodward earned an Emmy nod. I have seen/heard Janney deliver acceptance speeches at plenty of awards shows over the years (Emmys, SAGs), but I do not recall her ever mentioning Joanne Woodward.

Per the IMDb, Joanne Woodward is now 88. She hasn’t acted for either big or small screen in a few years, but her filmography speaks for itself.  Among the American name-brand actresses who rose to prominence at the same time as Woodward, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn no doubt achieved the pinnacle of superstardom [1], but Woodward accomplished the feat of longevity, continuously acting in worthy projects in a career that spanned decades. Consider, if you will, the simple fact that Woodward’s four Oscar nominations date from 1957’s The Three Faces of Eve through 1990’s Mr. and Mrs. Bridge–with highlights along the way including 1968’s Rachel, Rachel, and 1973’s Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams. That’s not just four Oscar nominations. That’s four nominations in four decades, a nifty trick for anyone.

The 70s also brought acclaim, and a Cannes Best Actress award, for 1972’s The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds, and stellar TV work with the likes of Sybil (as controversial psychiatrist. Cornelia Wilbur) and See How She Runs, as a fortyish woman who enters the Boston Marathon; Woodward earned an Emmy nomination for the former and the actual trophy for the latter. To clarify, Woodward spent many years honing her craft back in the days of live TV, well before her big screen breakthrough in The Three Faces of Eve, and to TV she often returned in prestige projects.

The 1980s began with Emmy nominated Crisis at Central High (1981), depicting the 1957 integration of nine African American students into an otherwise all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas–with Woodward on board as the assistant principal, Elizabeth Huckaby, upon whose account the movie was based. In the same decade, Woodward won her second Emmy for 1985’s Do You Remember Love?, a for the times groundbreaking look at Alzheimer’s disease. In 1987, she attracted awards buzz for tackling the legendary role of Amanda Wingfield in husband Newman’s big screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ classic The Glass Menagerie, a recreation of a successful staging of the play for the Williamstown Theatre Festival sometime earlier. Woodward’s Amanda earned the actress an Independent Spirit nomination.

After the relative success of 1990’s Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, Woodward continued in a variety of projects, such as providing delectable narration for Martin Scorsese’s heady imagining of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, portraying Tom Hanks’ stalwart, yet devastated, mother in Philadelphia (both in 1993). Once again, the small screen provided such opportunities as the aforementioned Blind Spot and yet another Emmy nominated turn–for an adaptation of Anne Tyler’s Pulitzer winning Breathing Lessons, opposite James Garner. Arguably, Woodward’s last role of consequence was in the 2005 mini-series Empire Falls, also translated from a Pulitzer novel, per Richard Russo. Woodward yet again earned an Emmy nod; more significantly, perhaps, is that Empire represents the last time Woodward appeared in a project with her longtime mate, Paul Newman–even if they did not necessarily share intersecting storylines. Newman passed away in 2008.

In between her awardworthy roles, Woodward enjoyed as many big screen hits as misses, no doubt, often though not always paired with Newman (many of which I’ve seen at least once); among them: A Kiss Before Dying, The Long Hot Summer, Rally Round the Flag Boys, From the Terrace, The Stripper, Paris Blues, A New Kind of Love, They Might Be Giants, along with forays into television, including All the Way Home and even a “fresh” teleadaptation of Come Back, Little Sheba along with The Shadow Box. Once again, per the IMDb, Woodward’s filmography, strictly as a performer, boasts an astonishing 79 credits, starting with 1952’s Tale of Tomorrow all the way up through 2013’s Lucky Them.

The Three Faces of Eve (1957):  Woodward had been working steadily in films, TV, and onstage since the early 1950s when, at age 27, she landed the plum role of a young woman with what was once known as Multiple Personality Disorder. First, Eve White, the despairing milquetoast housewife, slowly coming apart at the seams, with blackouts on top of debilitating headaches. Next, Eve Black, party girl and a threat to everything Eve White holds dear. Finally, Jane, not another splinter but the best of who Eve really is with the identities merged into one new and improved self.  To get there, the woman must first revisit the traumas of the past. Of course, we now know a lot more than we did back in 1957. To begin, as noted, no one uses the term Multiple Personality Disorder. The more correct, more descriptive term is Dissociative Identity Disorder, and even now it’s still a controversial diagnosis. Second, The Three Faces of Eve is  loosely based on an actual case study. Years after the film’s release, the subject was revealed as Chris Costner Sizemore. She wrote her own book, The Final Face of Eve, revealing far more struggles with reconciliation, years’ worth, that the film could scarcely portray. So, by today’s standards, The Three Faces of Eve seems heavy-handed and might prompt snickers as a result. Nonetheless, Woodward, for all that, is extraordinarily watchable; moreover, she proves her versatility in one bold stroke. Of course, she won an Oscar for such a demanding role, one ripe with conflict and emotional complexity–and against serious contenders: Deborah Kerr (Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison [a personal fave]), Anna Magnani (Wild is the Wind), Elizabeth Taylor (Raintree County), and Lana Turner (Peyton Place). Interestingly, Woodward’s was her film’s sole nominee. And she won. She won without the p.r. boost of a film with multiple nominations to generate and maintain voter interest, reportedly the first in the Best Actress category since Bette Davis triumphed with 1935’s Dangerous. And we all know Davis’s first Oscar was a consolation prize for bad luck the previous season with the missed opportunity known as Of Human Bondage. No such overture for Woodward. She won because Academy members had their respective socks knocked-off. Clearly, this role primed Woodward for her later turn as Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, the woman who treated the similarly afflicted title character known as Sybil, an Emmy worthy turn by Sally Field, in the mid-70s TV adaptation.

Rachel, Rachel (1968) :  Woodward married Paul Newman in early 1958. It was his second marriage, her first. He was five years older.  Their partnership endured for 50 years, with multiple professional collaborations as well, including this 1968 feature film, Newman’s directorial debut; to clarify, he did not actually appear onscreen. Woodward plays, alas, a bit of a cliché, a small town “spinterish” school teacher who lives with her mother (Kate Harrington), but the story cackles with promise as Rachel enjoys a summer rendezvous with a former classmate, also a teacher (James Olson); he’s not exactly a scalawag, but he’s hardly a pillar of virtue either, and the romance, such that it is, does not end well though Rachel emerges with hope; elsewhere, Rachel experiences an awkward encounter with yet another teacher, played by the one and only Estelle Parson, fresh from her 1967 Best Supporting Actress victory in Bonnie & Clyde.  The cast is rounded by the great Geraldine Fitzgerald, as an evangelist,  and Nell Potts (daughter of Woodward and Newman), as a younger version of Rachel in flashbacks.  Rachel, Rachel not only earned Woodward her second Best Actress nod, 11 years after her triumph in The Three Faces of Eve, but also scored nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Parson again), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Stewart Stern, from the novel A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence). Still, love was not all around as the director’s branch overlooked Newman in his category even though he’d been so nominated for a Directors’ Guild award and even though he and Woodward won his and her accolades from the New York Film Critics. Of course, this kind of omission happens frequently, per the recent Oscars in which director Martin McDonagh was glossed over by the peers even though his film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was up for Best Picture in addition to three performance nods, resulting in wins for Best Actress (Frances McDormand) and Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell). Back to Woodward.  Understandably livid, she threatened to boycott the ceremony in light of Newman’ snub, but she experienced a change of heart. Even so, 1968 was extremely competitive, with three of the five Best Actress nominees, including, again, Woodward, starring in Best Picture contenders. When Ingrid Bergman announced the winner, the results were a tie between Katherine Hepburn (The Lion in Winter) and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl). The lineup also included Patricia Neal (The Subject of Roses) and Vanessa Redgrave (Isadora). Parson lost to Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby), and Oliver! snagged the Best Picture trophy.

This image, likely from a VHS edition, looks pretty much the same as the film’s poster, less all the critical blurbs and the immortal tag: “Beautiful. Frigid. She is called a Snow Queen.” How ominously alluring is that? (IMAGE: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15359180

Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973): Hard indeed to explain the hold this movie had on me back in the day. Of course, I didn’t see it. I was an 8th grader living in Garland, Texas, at the time, for cryin’ out loud, and we didn’t have that many opportunities for moviegoing in our household; plus, while Garland was hardly a barren wasteland in regards to movie screens, I somehow think a movie, a character study about a 40ish woman, wife of an eye-doctor (still reeling from his own trauma) and mother to two grown–estranged–children, experiencing mid-life crisis, exacerbated by the sudden death of her mother, would have been playing at any of the neighborhood theatres. Nope, this would have meant destination movie-viewing in Dallas, and, again, why does an 8th grader in Garland, TX, circa 1973, want to see a movie called Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams?  Anyway, so this was Woodward’s third Oscar nod. Maybe it was her cool–frosty–glamour (see image on right), or maybe it was a clip featuring a dramatic scene, amid bustling New York streets, with veteran great–and Best Supporting Actress nominee–Sylvia Sidney that prompted my attention, but what mother would drive an 8th grader to see such a movie? At any rate, I caught up with it decades and decades later and like the landmark An Unmarried Woman (1978) starring the late great Jill Clayburgh, Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams, looks hopelessly dated now, especially in its treatment of, gasp, homosexuality. Nonetheless, when Oscar time rolled around, Woodward, who’d already claimed Best Actress honors from the New York Film Critics, among other accolades, appeared to be neck and neck with no less than Barbra Streisand, iconic in the extremely popular The Way We Were.  That’s my recollection at least. I do not remember Marsha Mason (Cinderella Liberty) being lauded as a heavyweight contender, in spite of wonderful reviews (and a Golden Globe). I also do not remember so much Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist) and Glenda Jackson (A Touch of Class) generating considerable heat even though they both starred in Best Picture contenders. No, I’m pretty certain the heavy betting was on Woodward and Streisand.  The winner? Jackson, generally perceived as a surprise if not an upset. She had won three years previously for Ken Russell’s beguiling–artsy–adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. A Touch of Class was a light, frankly adult comedy about a married man, American, (played by George Segal), who embarks on what is supposed to be a no-strings affair with Brit Jackson.  At any rate, Jackson didn’t attend that year’s ceremony. She feigned work obligations, perhaps underscoring the idea that even the lady herself didn’t feel she had much of a chance. Sidney, meanwhile, lost to child actress Tatum O’Neal in Paper Moon; meanwhile, please consider the following. First, the film was written, presumably with Woodward in mind, by Stewart Stern, who also scripted Rachel, Rachel. (Stewart also tackled the job of adapting Sybil for the small screen.) The film was originally titled Death of a Snow Queen, which is problematic enough. Woodward, reportedly found the resulting title too generic (qtd. in Wiley and Bona 484). I won’t disagree, but I also find it part of the movie’s mystique. The director,  btw, is none other than Gilbert Cates, with hefty credentials though perhaps best known as the producer of the annual Oscar telecast during the years in which the show was revitalized by the presence of frequent host, Billy Crystal.

Behold the former Miramax’s tricky marketing ploy. Cast middle-aged superstars in leading roles and then obscure their faces in the promotional materials, lest anyone confuse the film with, say, Driving Miss Daisy. IMAGE: By POV – Impawards, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6196057

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge (1990): I have written about this movie at least once over the years, most notably when I looked back on the films of the Merchant-Ivory-Jhabvala triumvirate. This is without question my favorite Joanne Woodward performance, and, I believe, a far worthier choice for that year’s Best Actress Oscar than Kathy Bates (Misery), and I like Bates. A lot. But I find that 99% of the time in Misery Bates’ portrayal of a deranged–fanatical–caretaker plays like, well, a performance, a feat of acting  calisthenics. But enough about Bates.

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge, which once again, pairs Woodward with Newman is based on two novels by Evan S. Connell. He published Mrs. Bridge in 1959, and Mr. Bridge followed in 1969 though, to clarify, each novel reportedly tells the same basic story, save for difference in point of view; moreover, the stories are set much earlier, beginning in the 1930s and continuing through the 1940s. Connell long went on record that the Bridges were based on his own parents, an affluent couple raising their children amid Kansas City, Missouri’s, privileged country-club class. Mr. Bridge, seemingly having no patience for emotional displays (though not without moments of hard-earned tenderness), is a lawyer of some renown while Mrs. Bridge is cheery, gracious, a bit naïve, and, like her husband, prone to self-protection in the form of good ole Midwestern reserve. Okay, let’s be clear. The lead actors are probably a bit too old, honestly, to be cast in their roles. When the story begins, at least one of their three children is still in high school; the other is soon off to college. Teenagers, right? 40ish, right? Mid-forties, maybe? But the stars were 60ish when they shot the movie, so what gives? Well, it works because one gets the impression that, at least by today’s standards, the Bridges thought and acted, well, you know, old.  Fuddy-duddys. Plus, Woodward and Newman look great, all things considered between the hair, makeup and lighting crew–and with Woodward’s eyes being especially clear and bright.

Here’s the thing, and I think I have written about this at least once, previously. As Mrs. Bridge, Woodward brings to mind a high school classmate’s sort of eternally perplexed mom. Stay at home wife and mother, excellent homemaker, dabbles in art-classes, defers to the husband even when he is being negligent (if not outright cruel), dotes on her unforgiving kids, oh, and, of course, passive aggressive to a fare-thee-well. Still an essentially good and kind person but almost unable to help herself from, at least, appearing ridiculous when, perhaps, she sees herself as sensible. It’s all there in one devastating performance, one without a single false note and several more-than-right ones.  To clarify, it’s a subtle portrayal with few opportunities for histrionics, and that may very well prove problematic for fans accustomed to bigger-means-better acting demonstrations. Among the choices bits are:

  • An especially awkward–painful–moment during son Robert Sean Leonard’s Eagle Scout ceremony. (Again, it plays as uncomfortably true to life based on my own observation.)
  • India Bridge (Woodward) sounding positively daft as she explains what she knows, or doesn’t know, about voting to her flighty pal (Blythe Danner) during, what else, art class.
  • Back to Leonard: late in the movie, Woodward can’t stop herself from resorting to the strategies she once used to motivate her son when he was a small child; the effect is heartbreaking and, again, maybe even embarrassing.

The films of Merchant-Ivory were noteworthy because they afforded compelling talents, such as Woodward and Newman, to practice their craft in prestigious projects, but they did so in films justifiably celebrated for richly detailed production design and costume design–on, by all accounts, miniscule budgets and, even more miraculously, breakneck shooting schedules.  Mr. and Mrs. Bridge was no different with locations ranging from Kansas City, Missouri, to Canada, and Paris, France. The grueling pace prompted Woodward to describe the experience as “tough” and explain that after working for 14 hours at a stretch, she was ready to slip into “the tub with a glass of sherry and two Advils” (qtd. in Wiley and Bona 790). Good story. Another good story is that I have great confidence that the Kansas City home that houses the Bridge family is now a popular B&B, the very one that Michael and I stayed in when we finally made it to the beautiful, fountain-filled city. Kind of surreal, that, and definitely a coincidence.

So that’s that. 4 Oscar nods, for Woodward, including one win (on the first try) spread out over 4 decades.  Maybe one day, you should scroll through her entire list of accolades, per the IMDb. The awards and nominations are far more than I can list here.

So, I began writing this piece about a week after the Oscars, most of it in one quick burst, but I got lazy over spring break and then stopped completely after I learned some discouraging news about a friend who’d been very ill. Still, I managed to finish at last.

Now, especially, all things considered, I want to thank Allison Janney for inspiring me to write about Woodward in the first place. Now, especially, I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to the great Joanne Woodward while she is still very much with us.

Thanks, Joanne.

[1] Yes, technically, Elizabeth Taylor was a working actress, a child star, well before moviegoers had ever heard of Woodward, but Taylor’s most successful career stretch began as a young woman in the 1950s, comparable to Woodward in that regard. Indeed, as noted, Taylor’s first Oscar nomination was for 1957’s Raintree County, the same year that Woodward triumphed with The Three Faces of Eve.

Wiley, Mason and Damien Bona. Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, 10th Anniversary Edition.  Ballantine, 1993.

Janney’s interview in Forbes, detailing her early days and the Woodward-Newman connection: https://www.forbes.com/sites/russespinoza/2018/02/18/why-oscar-nominee-allison-janney-never-cashed-in-her-favor-from-paul-newman/#74f7e0ba4a3a

 

 

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That’s a Wrap: The Shape of Oscar at 90

6 Mar

So how is Oscar holding up at 90? Pretty well, I’d say. Last night’s annual star-studded bash had a little something for everyone with women breaking new ground, people of color breaking new ground, nominees almost as old as Uncle Oscar himself and one nominee hardly old enough to remember back when Frances McDormand won her first Best Actress Oscar; plus, the celebrated movies included blockbusters (Get Out, Dunkirk, and Coco) along with middling hits and critics’ darlings (The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) and the occasional curiosity piece (The Phantom Thread). How did it all go down?

First, I’d like to thank host Jimmy Kimmel for being an affable host and for a mostly glitch free evening.

Per tradition, the show began with an award in the supporting categories. In this case, that would be Best Supporting Actor. The victor? No surprise: it’s Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Well, he was clearly the frontrunner going into the final stretch as evidenced by such high profile wins as the Screen Actor Guild award. Good for him. I’ve been a fan for awhile, going back to at least Box of Moonlight, opposite John Turturro (then the more recognizable of the two) in the mid 1990s.  Many of us truly believed his role in 2013’s The Way, Way Back would be his ticket to the Oscars, but nope. So, he wins on his first try. It’s a little surprising because his nominated co-star Woody Harrelson (to clarify, in the same category) had what appeared to be the more nuanced role, a conflicted police chief. Rockwell comes on strong right from the beginning, but the character–Harrelson’s hot headed, corrupt right hand man–slowly reveals himself to be more than he originally seems though it takes awhile before the layers begin showing themselves.

The early Best Supporting Actor frontrunner, btw, was no less than Willem Dafoe in his third run for The Florida Project. I confess that as much as I wanted to see Dafoe’s film, I somehow missed the connection and never saw it. Rather, I have not seen it yet. I know it’s available for home viewing, and I intend to make that happen soon. That noted, I am a huge Dafoe fan, and I was and am thrilled that this role has brought him renewed acclaim. To back up, Dafoe was previously nominated for Platoon (1986) and Shadow of the Vampire (2000).

All that aside, I must likewise confess that I was not-so-secretly rooting for Christopher Plummer, mesmerizing as late billionaire J. Paul Getty in fact-based All the Money in the World, detailing the bizarre story of a kidnapping gone wrong in the early 1970s. Maybe I’m just in love with the backstory. For the uninitiated, Plummer took over the role of the seemingly heartless tycoon who refused to pay his grandson’s ransom, a role originally enacted by two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey. To avoid backlash regarding sexual misconduct allegations against Spacey, who portrayed Getty with heavy prosthetics (as Getty was 80 at the time of the events, and Spacey is in his late 50s), director Ridley Scott turned to Plummer who, on the eve of  his 88th birthday, stepped in, well after  production had wrapped, for  a flurry of reshoots–all in a matter of weeks. This whole turnaround presented a mad dash in order to complete and edit new footage into the existing cut in order to roll the film out for its scheduled December premiere. Whew! That along makes Plummer a supporting player above all reproach on the surface of it, but that’s not the whole picture. Damn, he’s good in this role, y’all. Whereas early clips featured Spacey playing Getty with a slightly ironic bent (often his worst tic as an actor), Plummer plays it straight: dead on the inside, barely human anymore as he is consumed by his wealth and creature comforts. Of course, we all remember Plummer as the stern disciplinarian transformed by love in 1965’s Oscar winning behemoth The Sound of Music, but that was different. Also, it’s been a few years since Plummer won an Oscar, at long last, for Beginners. As an aging gay man coming out of the closet, Plummer was giddy, delightful. All the Money in the World is miles removed. Perhaps if the film as a whole had been better received, Plummer might have walked away a two-time winner, but it floundered at the box office, lost in the holiday shuffle led by the likes of the latest Star Wars epic and the Jumanji reboot.

Interestingly, Donald Sutherland, one of this year’s honorary recipients (featured in a clip from a previous non-televised ceremony) is set to play the elder Getty in a tele-adaptation of the same story. I can imagine Sutherland in the role even if I can’t imagine that he will obliterate my memory of Plummer.

Best Supporting Actress? Again, not a surprise. Allison Janney, already a multiple Emmy winner, took home the award for playing controversial ice skater Tonya Harding’s domineering battle-axe of a mom in I, Tonya. Again, Janney had won the last several major awards of the season though Laurie Metcalf seemed well positioned for playing the well-meaning mess of a mom–to Saoirse Ronan’s titular Lady Bird. Janney’s hardened “LaVonna” is so far gone that she makes Plummer’s tightfisted billionaire look like St. Francis of  Assisi. I’ll give Janney all the credit in the world, so to speak, for perfectly capturing LaVonna’s mannerisms, as seen in actual news footage both old and new, but I’m a bit surprised Academy voters took the bait because the role is so completely over the top. Not much subtlety. Of course, the Academy has long favored obvious acting, and this falls squarely within that realm. The most touching moment in Janney’s speech was when she thanked Oscar winner Joanne Woodward, all but disappeared these days, a mentor from her early years as a struggling actress. Woodward is an acting giant in my book, so I find it was cool that Janney reached out to her in such a gracious, public, manner.

This was certainly an exciting category. Historic, even. For instance,  Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water) is now tied with Viola Davis, last year’s supporting actress winner (Fences), as the most nominated Black actress in Academy history. Of course, Spencer won for a memorable turn in 2011’s blockbuster hit The Help and was back in the race for last year’s smash Hidden Figures (both Best Picture nominees, btw). This is her third race, and now in a Best Picture winner; moreover, she is now the first Black actress to enjoy back-to-back nominations. Gotta love that. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Spencer is a national treasure. (Oh, and Denzel Washington, of Roman J.Israel, Esq, is enjoying his 9th nomination, 8 for acting, 1 for producing, but, importantly, he is also now the first Black actor with back-to-back nods, owing to 2016’s Fences.) You know who else made history in the Best Supporting Actress category? Mary J. Blige, that’s who. She is now the first performer nominated for acting AND songwriting in the same year. To clarify, she appeared in the indie film Mudbound, for which she also c0-composed and performed the Oscar nominated tune, “Mighty River.” Wow. Good for her.

I did not have a clear preference in this category though I must say that Lesley Manville tickled me in The Phantom Thread as Daniel Day Lewis’s no-nonsense manager/sister. It’s a quiet performance, save for an especially dexterous TKO in the final round, per the featured clip during the presentation of nominees. All in all, a delicious take on Judith Anderson’s oddly butch housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Best Picture winner, Rebecca (per Daphne Du Maurier’s celebrated gothic). I also appreciated Metcalf’s tightly wound performance, especially an airport sequence full of such confoundingly conflicting emotions it’s a miracle that anyone could play it. But, of course, we know that Metcalf is a seasoned veteran with multiple Emmys and a Tony. Astonishing. Elsewhere, I wish Lily James had garnered more traction for her key role as Winston Churchill’s stenographer in Darkest Hour. She serves as the audience’s surrogate in the film and delivers a memorable performance, both nuanced and sharply observed.

WOW! A standing ovation as James Ivory takes the stage to accept an Oscar for adapting Call Me by Your Name. Amazing to see the 89 year-old earn his first ever Academy award after decades of quality filmmaking in tandem with producer Ismail Merchant and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvalla, both since departed. In their heyday, with Ivory on board as director, the trio crafted some of the most acclaimed films of the 1980s and 1990s, most famously A Room with a View (1986), Howards End (1992), and Remains of the Day (1993), all of them nominated for Best Picture, Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay–with Jhabvala earning trophies for A Room with a View and Howards End. Now, Ivory has his own Oscar, and, yes, goody-goody gum-drops to him for writing a movie that has dazzled younger generations of moviegoers who might not be familiar with his previous works. As Ivory so eloquently stated, we all remember what it’s like to fall in love for the first time, hopefully, no matter our orientation. Indeed. Love is love.

Still, this year’s Best Adapted Screenplay roster was historic as well for the inclusion of co-scripter Dee Rees (with Virgil Williams) for Mudbound, which she also directed. Rees is the first Black woman ever nominated for screenwriting, in either of the two screenplay categories. In 2018. 90 years.

Likewise, YOWZA to Jordan Peele for earning Best Original Screenplay honors for Get Out, his first produced feature length script, which we know he also directed and produced. Get Out was not only one of 2017’s biggest hits, it was also 2017’s most audacious, most talked about film–and all of that begins with the screenplay. Always. Good for Mr. Peele, whose win is also historic in that he is the first Black screenwriter to win in this category, and only the fourth Black screenwriter to be honored in either category, coming on the heels of Barry Jenkins and Tarrell Alvin McCraney for 2016’s Moonlight’s adaptation, which, of course, went on to capture Best Picture honors. Peele’s victory was especially sweet given the tight competition, meaning Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), and Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick). I don’t think anyone would have complained, too much, if one of the others had won. Each brought something fresh and unique to the party, but Peele is the clear standout, and his victory is just.

So Gary Oldman wins Best Actor for playing legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, again, no surprise, and doesn’t he look and sound like such a distinguished statesman at the podium, and I believe his speech to be sincere, heartfelt.  How touching to thank his 99 year old mother. Such a change, such a change. I didn’t love Darkest Hour, but I recognize Oldman’s brilliance, sure.

Meanwhile, Timothy Chalamet, all of 22 years of age (but not the youngest ever Best Actor nominee), should have plenty of chances if his enthusiastically acclaimed performance in Call Me By Your Name is any indication. What a year this young man has enjoyed. Besides a Best Actor nomination, he appeared in TWO Best Picture nominees, the first being Call Me By Your Name; Lady Bird being the second. Btw, the youngest ever Best Actor nominee is Jackie Cooper, all of 9 years old when he was nominated for 1931’s Skippy. Mickey Rooney follows at 19 for 1939’s Babes on Broadway. The youngest winner is Adrien Brody. He was 29, but just days from turning 30, when he triumphed for 2002’s fact-based Holocaust drama The Pianist.

Because Oldman’s victory long seemed predetermined, I never entertained the idea that there might be an upset even though strong cases could be made for the two Daniels: Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Daniel Day Lewis (The Phantom Menace). Furthermore, I am beginning to wonder what Tom Hanks has to do to earn another Oscar nod, given his work in recent Best Picture nominees, Captain Phillips (2013), Bridge of Spies (2015), and, now, The Post, not to mention the all-but shut-out Sully (2016). To clarify, I am not an ardent Hanks fan, and I respect the Academy for resisting the knee-jerk nomination, but even I’m surprised that he has had such a dry spell. To clarify, his last nod was for 2000’s Cast Away, and, neighbor, that’s a mighty long time. Have a bowl of chili on me, Tom.

All that aside, I wonder why there hasn’t been more backlash regarding the omission of Doug Jones, for playing the amphibious creature at the heart of Shape of Water. His was not a complete CGI concoction, but an intricate blend of actual footage with Jones in costume, under all that makeup, with effects added digitally; plus some motion capture.  See Gary Oldman isn’t the only actor to transform himself for a role.

Just for the record, to clarify, I’m still all about Jeremy Renner in Wind River.

Moving on…

For me, the highlight of the evening was seeing Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence together onstage, the latter a knockout in an exquisitely fitted shimmering gown, presenting Best Actress, that is, presenting Best Actress specifically to the one and only Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, for my money THE performance of the year in ANY category. Onscreen and in real life, McDormand cuts through all the b.s. and  speaks her truth.  And what a mighty truth that is, especially when she asks every single female nominee in the performance hall to stand up and bask in the moment, what we hope is a true moment of change, of true change, not just at the Oscars, but in the business and culture of movies. Oh, and this is McDormand’s second Oscar, and what I love about it so much is that she is not playing a tragic or defeated character. Flawed, yes, but not a victim, not really. Certainly not a whiner.

I just dig her, y’all, and her feistiness, that loopiness that allows her to make a spectacle and ask all the women in the audience to bask in the victory of just being able to work and to succeed in an extremely cut-throat masculine-oriented business.

Did I have a second choice for Best Actress? A backup I could live with just in case the odds somehow turned against McDormand? In a word, no. Not even. That noted, Margot Robbie performs heroically in I, Tonya–and props to her business savvy as one of the film’s lead producers.  I also must once again plug the remarkable Vicky Krieps as DDL’s muse and mistress of manipulation in The Phantom Thread. No, she wasn’t among the Academy’s picks, but she more than holds her own, acting opposite a true living legend (three time Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis). Once she gets her mojo going, she plays to win, and the effect is thrilling. Hopefully, we’ll see her again soon.

Technical awards?

  • What a great thing for costume designer Mark Bridges to win for The Phantom Thread. Oh my, Bridges had been my favorite all along. I love his witty take on 1950s couture, London style. Plus, he won the jet-ski, the reward for the evening’s shortest speech.
  • Oh, and congratulations to all the sound designers, engineers, and mixers on Dunkirk for sweeping BOTH sound categories: Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Good job.
  • Likewise, Dunkirk’s editor, Lee Smith. He certainly rose to the challenge of Christopher Nolan’s far flung war narrative with criss-crossing storylines, on land, on water, and in the air.
  • This is Smith’s first win after two previous nods, including Nolan’s The Dark Knight, but, oddly, not the same director’s Inception though it scored multiple tech awards. Anyway, it’s all good now, right Lee?
  • Kudos, as well, to the design team led by Paul D. Austerberry, along with Shane Vieau and Jeffrey A. Melvin (as listed per the IMDb) for their masterful job on The Shape of Water. Awash in sea-green and cold-war industrial elements, the movie simply does not look like any other. The look of it contributes to the story itself. Incredibly, the members of this team are first time nominees. Nicely done, fellas.
  • Composer Alexandre Desplat won Oscar number two for his score to The Shape of Water, a few years since first winning for The Grand Budapest Hotel. He’s earned a total of 9 nods in just about a decade, going back The Queen (2006).
  • Of course, Desplat’s victory comes at the expense of Johnny Greenwood for The Phantom Thread. Greenwood, perhaps most famously known as a member of the rock band Radiohead, also scored Phantom Thread director Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will be Blood (2007) though his celebrated composition was disqualified on a technicality. For many fans, Greenwood was the obvious, and seemingly unbeatable frontrunner for his lush new score, but, alas, that is not to be.
  • At long last, cinematographer Roger Deakins wins a competitive Oscar–for the Blade Runner reboot. I loved the original. Never saw the latest installment. I can’t criticize something I haven’t seen, and I won’t. But I am a Deakins fan, and have been rooting for him, oh, about 13 other times, especially for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Skyfall.
  • Here again, though, as thrilled as I am for Deakins at long last, I really thought this one was destined for either Dunkirk (Hoyte van Hoytema) or The Shape of Water (Dan Lausten) though kudos to Rachel Hudson (Mudbound), the first ever female cinematography nominee.

And who doesn’t love Disney-Pixar’s Coco, the delightfully colorful animated flick that celebrates love, family, culture, and music, music, music? This was an easy call for Best Animated Feature.  Bravo to one and all. I’m also pleased to report that, despite a live performance that began a bit on the wobbly side, Coco‘s “Remember Me” won Best Song honors as well. What I find especially appealing about this specific award is that recipients, the team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, can now bask in the, what, relief of knowing they will no longer be known only as the duo behind “Let It Go,” the monster–inescapable–hit from 2013’s Frozen. I still love “Let It Go,” but, well, it would be unfortunate if its popularity proved too overwhelming for its creators.

Michael and I saw Coco together, and we both loved it. We also loved The Boss Baby, which also competed for Best Animated Feature. There was never any doubt in my mind that Coco looked like a winner, but I’m surprised at how many eyebrows were raised at the inclusion of Boss Baby among the nominees. Really? It was a HUGE hit, not as big as Coco, obviously, but it was also hilarious, maybe the funniest movie we saw last year. I was thrilled by its nomination even though, again, it was hardly a threat to Coco‘s domination.

So, this is how it looked in the Best Picture race. 9 nominees and out of those, 7 won in at least one category, such  that:

  • Call Me by Your Name -1
  • Get Out -1
  • The Phantom Thread -1
  • Darkest Hour – 2 (including Best Makeup…for Oldman’s stunning transformation)
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 2
  • Dunkirk – 3
  • The Shape of Water – 4

This means that, after months of build up, Greta Gerwig’s much admired Lady Bird goes home empty-handed, and that is a little sad; likewise, The Post, its profile boosted by the likes of stars Meryl Streep and Tim Hanks, led by director Stephen Spielberg (each claiming multiple Oscar victories in the past), also goes home with nothing.

Of course, the two biggest awards of the evening, Best Picture and Best Director, went to Guillermo del Toro for his The Shape of Water, hardly a surprise. But 4 wins from a pool, so to speak, of 13 nods is hardly a sweep. The director’s urban fairy tale has certainly connected with scads upon scads of moviegoers, not to mention critics, and I applaud the efforts of one and all, especially Guillermo del Toro for his dogged determination to pursue his vision to its full realization and the art of persuasion it took to make that happen. Plus, kudos to the director for coaxing a trio of Oscar nominated performances: Sally Hawkins (Best Actress), Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress), and Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins).  But you know who else coaxed a trio of Oscar nominated performances, two of which went on to win in their categories? Martin McDonagh of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, that’s who. And he wasn’t even nominated, though, to clarify, the movie was also up for Best Picture. You know who else spoke about the grit and determination it took to make one of the year’s most buzzworthy films? Best Original Screenplay winner Jordan Peele (Get Out), that’s who–and his movie, improbable as it might have once seemed, actually had widespread appeal. My final thought is that I’m glad so many people enjoy The Shape of Water because it is quite lovely, but I don’t love it. I like it. But only as a friend.

And that’s the shape of Oscar at 90.

Stay tuned for the fashion gallery.

Thanks for your consideration.