From Colonia Roma to Wakanda to the Shallow: The Best Picture Nominees of 2018

Like clockwork, the annual Academy Awards, now in their 91st year, are hours away. Also like clockwork, filmmakers, pundits and audiences spread across all continents are tuning in to see what films the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will officially recognize as the best of 2018 while lamenting those that ultimately failed to get nominated like Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk or Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War (or, you know, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, but I digress). This year, interest lies not only in what well-dressed celebrities and auteurs will walk the red carpet to Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre and be called onstage to take their nine pound gold statues home, but in how the actual ceremony will go after a year of questionable and outright bad decisions to streamline its fluctuating runtime became an unending source of ridicule online. Plans for a Best Popular Film category were scrapped, Kevin Hart stepped down as host after controversial Tweets from his standup went viral, resulting in the first host-less Oscar telecast since 1989, and the decision to have four of the awards – Cinematography, Editing, Makeup & Hairstyling and Live Action Short – be handed out during commercial breaks was met with scathing backlash. Imagine how poorly that decision would have played last year when Roger Deakins finally won his first Cinematography Oscar for Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. Such drama makes one long for the simpler days, when a simple mixup with envelopes allowed Damien Chazelle’s La La Land to be Best Picture for a moment before Mr. Jenkins’ Moonlight was crowned the actual winner.

But enough about the drama (as there’ll be plenty more to come following the awards). What of the actual nominees? This year found eight different films nominated. Political satires, biopics, remakes, the first foreign nominee in over half a decade, which also happens to be the first Netflix film ever nominated, and the precedence setting first comic book movie to be recognized. Similar to last year, let’s take one last look at the films the Academy decided were the best of the best and see which one most deserves to be announced at the end of the ceremony, especially considering how unpredictable and messy this season has been.

8. Bohemian Rhapsody

For those who remember my review of Bryan Singer and Dexter Fletcher’s Queen / Freddie Mercury biopic back in November, you’ll remember it was… not favorable, to put it kindly (and wait for next week when it makes an appearance on the worst films of 2018 list to see how further down the tubes it’s gone these last four months). It’s been an amusing sight to watch the film’s passionate fanbase tear critics to shreds over their differing opinions as it amassed a fortune domestically and overseas, but that amusement factor ran its course once numerous controversies lined up alongside its Golden Globe / BAFTA / SAG Awards performance (and not just the ones circling Mr. Singer, who’s enabled another source of amusement: watching the fans do all they can to distance him from the movie even after confirmation the sequences they love the most – i.e. the Live Aid climax – were directed by him). To be an entertaining experience that recalls your best memories of Queen’s music is one thing, but entertaining does not make a film the best of the year and if Bohemian Rhapsody, which already eclipsed Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and David O. Russell’s American Hustle as the worst nominated film this decade, ultimately does happen to repeat its unexpected Globe win at the Oscars, then Paul Haggis’ Crash can sigh in relief as it hands its dubious position as the most reviled Best Picture winner ever to a “superior” contender. And that will also be the moment any validity the Academy still had will collapse into irrelevance because who actually wants to acknowledge mediocrity as a crowning achievement? There’s also Rami Malek’s inevitable win for his performance of Freddie Mercury, which has also been garnering backlash over the accuracy of his performance these last few days, but that’s a discussion for another day.

* also nominated for Actor in a Leading Role (Rami Malek), Editing (John Ottman), Sound Mixing and Sound Editing

7. Green Book

Speaking of disputable biopics, who’d believe a Farrelly brother would one day be in contention for an Oscar? While the controversy it’s achieved pales to that of Bohemian Rhapsody’s, Peter Farrelly’s Toronto Film Fest favorite certainly kicked its own share of mud up during the season thanks to Viggo Mortensen’s ill-advised use of a certain word during a post-screening Q&A (and while context gives the moment clarity, it was still in poor taste), stern words from the extended family of Dr. Don Shirley (played by Mahershala Ali, certain to receive his second Supporting Actor Oscar) who believe the film, which they won’t support, completely betrays who their late relative was and the double whammy of screenwriter Nick Vallelonga’s support of debunked Tweets about Muslims in Jersey City on 9/11 made by Donald Trump during his Presidential campaign (all the more awkward as Mr. Ali is Ahmadi Muslim and Mr. Vallelonga’s screenplay centers around his father, who overcame his own prejudices to find a dear friend in a gay black man) and an old interview mentioning Mr. Farrelly’s tendencies to flash crew members on previous shoots made the online rounds days after the film’s Golden Globe wins, igniting a debate among pundits over the “weaponization” of social media during awards season. All controversies aside, there’s nothing explicitly wrong with Green Book, a buddy dramedy that would have been popular in the ‘90s following the Oscar win for Bruce Beresford’s Driving Miss Daisy. The core relationship between Mr. Ali and Mr. Mortensen is key to the film’s success and the script has its fair share of charm and wit, even occasionally challenging the stereotype of the “white savior” trope normally associated with these kinds of films. But it is also in the same camp as previous winners like Crash and Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech, films that look at hard hitting topics and attempt answering the tough questions with a surface-level perspective meant to leave the audience feeling better about the state of the world when leaving the theater. Those kinds of winners had their day but to award them now, especially after winners like Moonlight and Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water, is too much a step backwards when filmmaking is about looking forward, not to mention how demeaning it would be to make Spike Lee relive the 62nd Academy Awards all over again.

* also nominated for Actor in a Leading Role (Viggo Mortensen), Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Original Screenplay (Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie & Peter Farrelly) and Editing (Patrick J. Don Vito)

6. A Star is Born

Remember when Bradley Cooper’s remake of the classic 1937 William A. Wellman / Janet Gaynor / Fredric March – and 1954 George Cukor / Judy Garland / James Mason AND 1976 Frank Pierson / Barbra Streisand / Kris Kristofferson – traged(ies) about the rise of musically gifted talent Ally (Lead Actress nominee Lady Gaga) paralleling the fall of her rapidly declining lover and patron Jackson (Mr. Cooper, pulling off acting, directing, producing and writing duties successfully, albeit nominated for three) was supposed to be the event film of awards season, only to be quickly and completely overshadowed by the two films listed above? Pepperidge Farms certainly remembers. While A Star is Born’s guild support is practically nonexistent and any chance at the major prizes outside of a well-deserved Original Song win for “Shallow” would require the intervention of Christ Himself, Mr. Cooper certainly announced himself to be as talented behind a camera as he is in front of one, finding new material to mine from the source material (including Ally’s rise and Jackson’s fall through a social media lens, the compromising of one’s talent for pop culture appeal, celebrity relationships with prescription drug abuse, etc.). Even after three iterations, this story still has some worthwhile things to say and the concept of a remake winning the Oscar isn’t a novel one as Martin Scorsese finally found Oscar success in 2006 with The Departed, even if it ultimately isn’t this one. But to be look at the half-full glass, Ben Affleck, Clint Eastwood and Ron Howard didn’t get Directing nominations or Picture wins for their directorial debuts, so Mr. Cooper is certainly among good company and what he’s shown thus far suggests greater things to come.

* also nominated for Actor in a Leading Role (Bradley Cooper), Actress in a Leading Role (Lady Gaga), Actor in a Supporting Role (Sam Elliott), Adapted Screenplay (Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper & Will Fetters), Cinematography (Matthew Libatique), Sound Mixing and Original Song (“Shallow”)

5. Black Panther

It took forty years for it to happen, but after Richard Donner’s groundbreaking Superman was nominated in three categories (and for the history buffs, the original Max Fleischer produced cartoon was nominated for the Best Short Subject, Cartoons back in 1942) and Tim Burton’s Batman, Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (something its critics should never be allowed to forget) were honored in various technical categories, comic book films have finally garnered new validation as Best Picture nominees. While some online would rather the distinction have gone to The Dark Knight ten years ago or Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman and James Mangold’s Logan last year (and others have made clear through petty comments how they feel about this being the first), Ryan Coogler’s adaptation of the classic Marvel superhero (played by Chadwick Boseman) is a fitting place to start. On the surface, King T’Challa’s dealing with the thrust-upon-him expectations that come with being leader and Black Panther along with challenges to the Wakandan throne by bloodthirsty revolutionary Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) has a familiarity found in other comic properties, but Mr. Coogler, aided by a phenomenal production team (including nominees Hannah Beachler and Ruth E. Carter for production and costume design) who bring the vibrant world of Wakanda to life in a way comic book movies haven’t experienced since Dick Tracy, sets Black Panther apart from its contemporaries with his use of the comic book template to explore various social issues and injustices that mainstream audiences aren’t familiar with. It’s a game changer that will inspire many, an unprecedented event for the MCU and a strong place for comic films to go.

* also nominated for Production Design (Hannah Beachler), Costume Design (Ruth E. Carter), Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Original Score (Ludwig Göransson) and Original Song (“All the Stars”)

4. Vice

Vice garnered quite the reputation over the last few months as one of this decade’s most divisive awards players (and remember, it’s competing against, to mention them again, Bohemian Rhapsody and Green Book, so that’s an accomplishment). Adam McKay’s film isn’t a traditional biopic examining Dick Cheney’s (Christian Bale in a well-deserved Lead Actor nomination) rise to power as it is a brutal indictment of both the powers that manipulated the game as they held the reins and the American populace who let Cheney and his political allies (such as Steve Carrell’s Donald Rumsfeld) and pawns (Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush, nominated again for Supporting Actor following his Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri win last year) go untethered for a lifetime, culminating in the harsh climate politics has become (something that’ll be touched on a little more when discussing BlacKkKlansman). And nothing highlights that more than its final ten minutes, comprised of both Chaney breaking the fourth wall mid-interview to tell the audience he is exactly what they deserve to assuage whatever darkness took hold in their fearful post-9/11 subconsciouses while they clung to the latest episode of “Survivor” and a mid-credits sequence where outspoken conservative and liberal men in a focus group come to blows over how biased / authentic the actual film is while others gush over their anticipation for the next Fast and Furious film, currently on its eighth sequel and a spinoff. Depending on who you ask, that’s either a powerful culmination of the past or the biggest “f * * k you” from a filmmaker trolling his audience (after all, this is the same man who gave the world the Anchorman films and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), but it’s an appropriate conclusion to such a perplexing period of history and, were Vice to pull off an upset, it would certainly be the most daring choice. Not just of this decade, but in the Oscar’s histories.

* also nominated for Director (Adam McKay), Actor in a Leading Role (Christian Bale), Actor in a Supporting Role (Sam Rockwell), Actress in a Supporting Role (Amy Adams), Original Screenplay (Adam McKay), Editing (Hank Corwin) and Makeup & Hairstyling

3. The Favourite

The ornate and seedy decadence of the 18th century British monarchs. Sexually fluid power plays between the ladies in waiting and the staff, all of who look fierce and fabulous while doing so. Bunnies hopping all over the palace to a soundtrack of Vivaldi, Schubert and Elton John. Who said period pieces always have to be stuffy and dour? Yorgos Lanthimos’s savagely funny depiction of Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman, deservedly nominated in Lead Actress) court and the tug of war between the hawkish Duchess of Marlborough and malicious maid Abigail (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, both vying for the Supporting Actress award) for their mentally exhausted queen’s favor and the power it enables is a desperately needed overdose of adrenaline to the costume drama genre, long seen as a favorite of the Academy’s. Mr. Lanthimos, thanks to films like Dogtooth and The Lobster, has quickly become a “favourite” of the Academy and The Favourite finds him at his most Academy friendly and “mainstream” (interpret that however you choose to) while doubling down on the darkly comic themes and behaviors of his oeuvre that have endeared him to audiences and voters these last few years. Also taking Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s one-liner heavy screenplay, Sandy Powell’s costumes and Robby Ryan’s simultaneously cinematic and claustrophobic cinematography into consideration and The Favourite does (in its own way) what Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon achieved back in 1975 with idiosyncratic bodice rippers. It looks good and it leaves no stones unturned over who it criticizes, no matter what rank or title they hold.

* also nominated for Directing (Yorgos Lanthimos), Actress in a Leading Role (Olivia Colman), Actress in a Supporting Role (Emma Stone & Rachel Weisz), Original Screenplay (Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara), Cinematography (Robby Ryan), Editing (Yorgos Mavropsaridis), Production Design (Fiona Crombie) and Costume Design (Sandy Powell)

2. BlacKkKlansman

Thirty yeas ago, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing was poised to be one of the Oscar behemoths of 1989 thanks to support from the late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert and its take-no-prisoners commentary on racism and police brutality (which has sadly become all the more relevant). Except when the nominations came, it only garnered two and won neither: Supporting Actor for Danny Aiello and Original Screenplay for Mr. Lee. On the night of the 62nd Oscars, before Driving Miss Daisy (a film Mr. Lee has never been shy to mask his criticisms of) took the top prize, Kim Basinger took a moment to call the Academy out for its failure to recognize Do the Right Thing and its telling of “the biggest truth of all.” Cut to today and Mr. Lee, like Christopher Nolan with Dunkirk last year, has finally been recognized by his peers with a Directing nomination for his latest; but, with no disrespect meant to either, unlike Mr. Nolan and Dunkirk, Mr. Lee’s nomination is for what might be the most important film of his career post-Do the Right Thing. Looking though a blaxploitation lens before the harshness of reality cuts in and hard, a film like BlacKkKlansman, the thrilling story of a Colorado detective (John David Washington) infiltrating a local KKK chapter and becoming close with Klan Grand Wizard (and future Louisiana State Representative) David Duke (Topher Grace), couldn’t have come at a more “appropriate” moment with the divided nature America’s taken these last few years, especially in the wake of 2017’s deadly Charlottesville protest (which caps the film off in its bone-chilling final moments). Mr. Lee’s abilities as a filmmaker always feel at their most potent when what direction the country heads in is the wrong one and nothing provokes like those in the Oval Office, given his unapologetically vocal feelings about the Trump Administration, enabling the most bigoted tendencies and prejudices of regular American citizens. The necessity of BlacKkKlansman comes in an extended sequence where an older black activist (Harry Belafonte) tells a young audience about the horrific murder of Jesse Washington at the hands of the people of Waco, TX enabled by D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, lauded by then-President Woodrow Wilson, as Klansmen across town celebrate the inauguration of new members while watching the aforementioned film and acting alongside it as if it were a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and shouting “America first!”.

* also nominated for Director (Spike Lee), Actor in a Supporting Role (Adam Driver), Adapted Screenplay, Editing (Barry Alexander Brown) and Original Score (Terence Blanchard)

1. Roma

Over the last few years, Netflix has quickly evolved from the streaming service that only got documentaries and the occasional Foreign Language contender recognized to a powerhouse distributor thanks to films like Dee Rees’ Mudbound (which also saw Black Panther DP Rachel Morrison recognized as the first woman of color to be nominated for Cinematography), the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and, of course, Alfonso Cuarón’s staggering masterwork about a year in the life of a 1970s middle class family living in the Mexico City’s Colonia Roma district seen through the eyes and experiences of their maid (schoolteacher turned Lead Actress nominee Yalitza Aparicio, in one of the most powerful debuts to be found in cinema period). Much like Luca Guadagnino with Call Me by Your Name last year, Mr. Cuarón’s intent isn’t to tell a sweeping epic, but to find the sweeping epic in life’s little moments. And for all his efforts (the climactic beach sequence alone is a testament to the transcendental power of the language of cinema), not only has he made one of the finest films of his career, Mr. Cuarón has crafted one of the finest films of cinema itself that suggests an unavoidable indicator for the future of not only Netflix films, but the directions the medium can go in from here. Not only what a win for Roma would mean for how cinema is shown, it would also be the first foreign-language film to ever win the top prize(s). In this century, there have only been three films to be nominated for Picture, Director and Foreign Language Feature (and eleven in the history of the Oscars to be nominated for Picture): Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, Michael Haneke’s Amour in 2012 and Roma this year. The first two only managed to win the Foreign Language prize. Here’s hoping this is the year that “glass ceiling” is broken.

* also nominated for Director (Alfonso Cuarón), Actress in a Leading Role (Yalitza Aparicio), Actress in a Supporting Role (Marina de Tavira), Original Screenplay (Alfonso Cuarón), Foreign Language Feature, Cinematography (Alfonso Cuarón), Production Design (Eugenio Caballero), Sound Mixing and Sound Editing

And there you have it, the eight nominees. So what are you rooting for to win this year? Are you in the Cuarón or Lee camps or rooting for one of the crowd pleasers? Or are you tuning in to see Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper perform “Shallow” again and Bette Midler put her spin on the nominated “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Rob Marshall’s Mary Poppins Returns? Find out tonight when the Academy Awards are televised live on ABC and live-streamed online. Don’t forget to read contributor Kristyn Clarke’s article to find out how to do the latter.

The post From Colonia Roma to Wakanda to the Shallow: The Best Picture Nominees of 2018 appeared first on Age of The Nerd.