Evaluating the nominees

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Re: Evaluating the nominees

Postby dws1982 » Thu Feb 22, 2018 6:07 pm

Just like Mister Tee's "Who'll Be Back?" thread, this is one thread I look forward every year. I always enjoy the unique perspective, even (and maybe even especially) when it doesn't align with my opinion.

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Evaluating the nominees

Postby Uri » Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:34 am

Way too often, I come out, after seeing a new film, wondering why it was made. It has a lot to do with the fact that films, regardless of whose vision they manifest, are a collective effort and they require a lot of money to be made. So, it seems, when it comes to films, especially those who are considered Oscar films, that beyond some commercial motivation there must be some other reasoning which corresponds with some kind of a wider common awareness or consciousness for a film to be made at a certain point of time, some trends to relate to, some social/historical/cultural urgency to appeal to. Every year, when we’re presented with a brand-new list of nominees, beyond the debate on the quality of the individual films in that particular crop – or lack of, there’s also a quest for finding out what this seemingly arbitrary group of films tells us – as a collective – about the current zeitgeist. In a way, Oscars nominations are Hollywood’s annual state of a union speech. And this year, it’s that question – why these films were made – is the common thread since it’s rather simply answered. There seem to be a sense (real or not) that a major social shift of power is about to happened, and looking at the nine films nominated, as well as those others who manage to snag “big time” nominations – I Tonia, Mudbound, Roman J. Israel, The Big Sick, even Molly’s Game – it’s very clear to see that most of them are led by people who are not white heterosexual men. And those who are, seem to offer us a historical perspective on leadership which defy the current version of it and THE white heterosexual man who sets the recent tone. Of course, the fact that a film may seem to be relevant doesn’t necessarily means it’s a good film, or even an interesting one – I Tonia ticks many of the boxes de jour yet it’s a dreadful piece. And sorting the good from the bad is exactly what the following is for.

My rating: A- the ultimate best of the year, B- very good, would make a decent, worthy winner, C- a nomination should suffice, D- not necessarily bad, but not award material, F- a failure.

Best Picture
1. Phantom Thread – A. All this rumble about relevance and urgency, and then there are films like this and it all seems totally irrelevant and rather simplistic. It simply stands on its own, challenging you to accept it on its own terms. A luscious, spellbinding piece.
2. Lady Bird – C. There was something unfamiliar about this film. OK - I’m not an American nor Catholic nor have I ever been a girl, but I saw countless movies about this particular experience, yet this one had a somewhat different, shifted tone to it, something I don’t remember getting from an American film about high school since Ghost World.
3. Call Me by Your Name – C. Nice. It’s intelligent and elegant. A crowd pleaser – not any crowd, mind you, but then again, those who are pleased by it wouldn’t want to be considered part of any crowd, would they?
4. Get Out – C. A clever little piece. The way it blends the vastly different genres into one coherent narrative is interesting if not always fully satisfying. A pleasant surprise.
5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – C. It is Smart! It is Urgent! It is Current! And it has the benefit of having a great cast which too often saves it from its own Smartness(!), Urgency(!), Currn… you get my point.
6. The Shape of Water – C. I should have ranked it higher, I guess, but this placement reflects my disappointment with missed opportunities and quite a few too many hosannas I stumbled upon. For all its splendor, it felt too calculated to me.
7. The Post – D. From what I learn, it started its life as a script about Katharine Graham and then it was (un)fortunate enough to be liked by Spielberg, who decide to man it up and make it more important, more urgent, more relevant than just a story of this particular woman. A pity, since it became a pedestrian take on a semi major historical event.
8. Dunkirk – D. Was it very efficient, even flamboyant, piece of Cinema making? Yes, I guess. Did it truly make me interested in what it was there to tell me? Not really.
9. Darkest Hour – F. Truly bad – as a film, as a history lesson and as far as I’m concerned, as a flag waving pep talk (or rather shout and yell).

Best Director
1. Paul Thomas Anderson – A. His nomination was kind of surprising, since he and his film don’t have the kind of required “Award narrative” like the others on this list do. He’s here purely because his talent and vision were too obvious to ignore. How strange.
2. Greta Gerwig – C. It’s the oldest, corniest narrative – a young director makes a film which follows very closely a personal coming of age story of her own. She might not be Truffaut quite yet, but she certainly has her own voice.
3. Jordan Peele – C. A relatively young Black director makes a small genre film which strikes a chord for alluding to Black Lives Matter. I like this narrative.
4. Guillermo del Toro – C. The other POC on this list, and his film invites us to read it as a fable about the way the coalition of the under-privileged can take on the system. Ok. But what it has to say is rather too obvious and not of the same level of the otherwise confident film making displayed here.
5. Christopher Nolan – D. He’s an extremely anal film maker. He likes to come up with big fat concepts and then meticulously (and, admittedly, rather expertly) flash them up onscreen. This time it’s about three parallel timelines, and it would have been nice had we been left alone, disoriented and confused, to figure it out for ourselves. But no, it had to be announced so no one could miss it. Anal.

Best Actor
1. Daniel Day Lewis – A. This, along with My Left Foot, is my favorite of his nominated performances (he should have been nominated for My Beautiful Launderette and The Age of Innocence). Left without a BIG character to play, he’s a marvel of nuances and delicate behavioral observations. And humor.
2. Timothée Chalamet – B. He is his film, and he carries it with confidence and a rather deceptively awkward charm and charisma.
3. Daniel Kaluuya – D. He’s perfectly fine – exactly what his film calls for - and he seems to be talented and has a nice presence onscreen. Yet nothing here justifies acting honors. Now – and he is certainly not to blame – it’s another case of when they need to cast a character of a dignified (non Ghetto, that is) Black American man, they go for a Brit. Just saying,
4. Denzel Washington – D. I made a pact with him. I wont actually watch his film and in return I will mark him a D instead of an F. I’m sure he’s thrilled.
5. Garry Oldman – F. A case of majorly wrongly cast actor who overcompensates this tragic mistake by making all the wrong grand actorly choices. This will go down as one of the worst wins in this category ever.

Best Actress
1. Frances McDormand – B. She’s too old and she is asked a lot – A LOT – by the screenplay, yet she manages to sail through it all unharmed and to come up with another strong and original performance. A two-time Oscar winner. It fits her.
2. Saoirse Ronan – B. A quietly confident turn. A very young actress who seems to know exactly where she is in every single moment playing a character who doesn’t. Not a trivial achievement.
3. Sally Hawkins – C. She's one of a kind – she doesn’t really look, move (and, alas sound) like anyone else. A fearless actress. Her presence here lifts her film up. Yet it seems that beyond the inspired idea to cast her, they didn’t really provide her with a truly rich character to play. I’m waiting to Maudie.
4. Meryl Streep – C. She’s good. A respectable performance, a respectable nomination. I wish she had a chance to truly explore Graham in a film in which she was not somewhat sidelined by too much unnecessary stuff.
5. Margot Robbie – F. A case of majorly wrongly cast actor who overcompensates this tragic mistake by making all the wrong minute actorly choices.

Vicky Krieps should have been a very prominent part of this discussion.

Best Supporting Actor
1. Woody Harrelson – B. A mensch #1. Admittedly, of the three big roles in this film, his is the best written one, still he truly makes it justice by injecting it with warmth and quite authority.
2. Willem Dafoe – B. A mensch #2. On paper, the character is all actions, with nothing else to suggest a full dimensioned person. All credit for him – and it is all about his ability to inject fully realized life into it - for making this performance truly at home in a competing category and not only fitting for a Jean Hersholt award.
3. Sam Rockwell – B. Just like McDormand, he holds this performance together by the sheer strength of his talent, with just spit at times (and blood and tears and all kinds of other bodily fluids, poor soul). Not my personal choice, but he is such an underrated great actor, I’ll be very happy to see him winning.
4. Richard Jenkins – C. A mensch #3. Like practically everything else in his film, there’s something calculated about the way this character has been imagined, but he’s such a seasoned, skilled actor he’s capable of suggesting a fully drawn character.
5. Christopher Plumer – C. A mensch # - not really. Yes – he can do it in his sleep, but it works. And he had no time to prepare. And his sportsmanship. And his age. And The Sound of Music (why not). I don’t feel deeply committed to this nomination, but I can live with it.

Best Supporting Actress
1. Lesley Manville – A. A previously ignored great actress finally being recognized, and it’s for a truly major achievement. All the nominations PT got were richly deserved, but still this is the highlight of this year list. I hope they go for one of the many majestically minimalist moments of hardly visible raised eyebrow or microscopic twitching of the corner of her mouth for her Oscar clip.
2. Laurie Metcalf – B. Last summer I saw her live in her Tony Award winning performance, sitting practically a few feet away from her – so I feel a kind of kinship with her. Since the possibility of Manville winning is minuscule, I’ll be rooting for her, and not only because our special bond – she is terrific here.
3. Octavia Spencer – D. Like practically everything else in his film, there’s something calculated about the way this character has been imagined, and while she’s a seasoned, skilled actor she doesn’t lift it up. She’s ok.
4. Mary J. Blige– D. I don’t really know who she is. I heard the name and knew she was a singer, but that’s it. So, after I saw her film and wasn’t blown over by her performance – she’s serviceable – I checked her out and fully understood why she’s nominated. Still – even in her drabiest on screen, one could see why Cher was a diva, while Blige’s idea of acting seriously was totally abolishing her own persona.
5. Allison Janney – D. It’s a testament of her talent – she is a good actress – that her turn here is watchable. Yet it never goes beyond a caricature.

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