The 2018 Academy Award nominations will be announced on January 25, and it’s still mostly anyone’s game. Unlike previous years where there’s a definite frontrunner (La La Land, Argo, 12 Years a Slave, etc.), this year a huge question mark hovers over most of the major categories. It makes for a more exciting contest-well, as exciting as the Oscars can actually be. (Remember–awards do not matter.) Although there are a few certainties in the major categories–Three Billboards, Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Call Me By Your Name–the lack of stand-out movies this year should allow for more interesting and unexpected choices. As I did at the mid-year, let’s look at some achievements worth considering, even if odds are they’ll be ignored.
While Sam Rockwell in Three Billboards is unfortunately taking all the heat away from Willem Dafoe in the terrific The Florida Project, there are other stand out supporting actor roles lost in the shuffle. One particularly notable performance from earlier in the year is Jason Sudeikis in Colossal. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s (TimeCrimes) tale about a screw-up (Anne Hathaway) who unintentionally ‘controls’ a monster in Seoul co-stars Sudeikis as Oscar, her childhood friend. Starting as your everyday nice guy, Oscar gradually becomes more unhinged throughout the movie. It’s a complicated role. Any actor could have easily played Oscar either too nice that when he finally shows his colors it feels like a forced third act twist, or too evil that you wonder why anyone would trust him in the first place. Instead, he walks the line perfectly, turning in a wonderfully subtle, villainous performance filled with repression and rage.
Where Netflix does fall in the Oscar race? Are there rules precluding its works from being nominated? Have those conditions been changed? Anyway, while the streaming service’s Mudbound is getting some awards heat with a couple of Golden Globe nominations, the less Tailor-Made-For-Gold I Don’t Feel At Home In The World Anymore is probably Netflix’s best film since Beasts of No Nation. Written and directed by first time filmmaker Macon Blair (best known as the lead in Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin), Home is about a depressed woman (Ruth, Melanie Lynskey) who, after being burglarized, tries to regain control over her life with the help of her eccentric neighbor (Tony, Elijah Wood) by catching those who stole from her. A great dark crime comedy, Home succeeds because of Lynskey who turns in a heartfelt performance as someone who is way in over her head, knows she is, but won’t stop because she has nothing else.
Best Original Screenplay – Edgar Wright, Baby Driver
Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver ended up as one of the biggest surprise hits of 2017 and rightfully so. His merging of music, crime, and cars creates one of the most unique, fun movies in recent years. While Driver is sure to (or-more accurately- should be sure to) pick up nominations for sound design and maybe even editing, its screenplay is also worthy of acclaim. In less than two hours, Wright manages to develop an entire criminal world replete with fully formed characters. Despite a moderately large ensemble, Baby Driver gives a rich inner life to characters beyond protagonist Baby (Ansel Elgort). His fellow criminals, his roommate, and his love interest–a romance that actually works instead of feeling tacked on-feel fleshed out. Unlike most modern action movies, Baby Driver does not simply drift from action set piece to action set piece. It’s a well-crafted story that knows how to escalate the tension–and how decisions and consequences affect and build upon each character.
Of special note is Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky. Famously written by nobody, Logan Lucky probably suffered from its proximity to Baby Driver – both are about criminals and cars, but this one (a crime comedy about people trying to rob NASCAR) was released in mid-August, whereas Driver was released in late June. Although it was mostly ignored in theaters, it’s an overall good time with a terrific cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Daniel Craig. Virtually the anti-Ocean’s Eleven, Lucky is not about the suavest, smartest guys in the room, but the clumsiest, stupidest ones. Yet you want these rednecks to succeed because they are nice without being noble and goofy without being annoying.
This has been a remarkable year for decent creepy adult thrillers (e.g. The Beguiled, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), but the most divisive (yet memorable) of them all is Darren Aronofsky’s mother! The issues are understandable, and they’re mostly because of Aronofsky himself. His writing is muddled-full of mixed metaphors, analogies that don’t work, and overly obvious yet still somehow perplexing symbolism. However his direction gives us one of the most haunting and beautifully filmed films of the past several years. It’s perfectly nightmarish and dream-like as Jennifer Lawrence’s character seemingly drifts through time, devoid of all agency and unsure how it got that way. The anarchic party at the end-an extreme version of Rosemary’s Baby‘s ending without any of the earlier work’s subtlety–produces a genuine sense of uncomfortability, tension, and breakdown of reality. Despite all of mother!‘s many problems, where/when it works, it’s fantastic and sticks with you in ways horror movies generally don’t. With mother!, Aronofsky deserves as much credit as he does blame.
Although Three Billboards is emerging as the more popular/acclaimed of 2017’s Dead Girl Mysteries movies, I consider Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River the overall better one. While Billboards is capitalizing on its stand-out performances with McDormand, Rockwell, and Harrelson, River paints a more compelling picture. Sheridan–who wrote the scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water before making his directorial debut with River–continues his streak of presenting lesser looked at societies with this fascinating portrayal of Native Americans, namely missing/abused Native American women. Set on a Native American Reservation in Wyoming, Wind River is about the unsolved death of a Native American teenager. Unlike Billboards, which never captures the personality of the Ozarks (it could easily be Anytown, USA), you cannot separate River from its setting. The poverty and despair permeates every character and location, which is perfectly complimented the coldness and isolation of the natural scenery (cinematography by Ben Richardson, equally deserving of a nomination).
While Wind River may still have a chance to be nominated for the Big Prize, one of the only “worthy” big budget films this year has dropped almost completely out of the discussion–Blade Runner 2049. Between its disappointing box office, mixed reaction, and the Oscar’s notorious dislike towards science fiction, it’s understandable why Blade Runner 2049 will be forgotten outside of the technical awards this year. It’s unfortunate because this marks one of the most epic achievements in cinematic science fiction over the past decade. Very few movies try, let alone successfully manage, to build a fully realized and believable future world, yet Denis Villeneuve and his team (including legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins) pull it off. Although the runtime (144 minutes) has been criticized-and understandably so–at least the movie uses the time well, allowing us to live in and absorb the universe rather than rushing to the next CGI-monster-filled action sequence or inconsequential Casino World.
Sure, odds are none of these movies will win; most won’t even be nominated. But remember, awards do not matter. Regardless of what happens on January 25 or March 4 (the date of the actual show), it won’t change what movies stand out to you. 2017 was far from a great year for films-very, very far-but there are still some decent films worth watching, even if they never end up getting the honors or acknowledgments they rightly deserve.