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.


2 Responses to “That’s a Wrap: The Shape of Oscar at 90”

  1. listen2uraunt 06 March 2018 at 2:27 pm #


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