Kenneth Turan on the Oscar nominations: How the academy threaded the needle between old and new
Los Angeles Times film critics Kenneth Turan and Justin Chang discuss the 2018 Academy Award nominations they were glad to see and where they felt the Academy fell short.
I dreamed a dream of Oscar on Monday night. Not of winning one, nothing so presumptuous as that. My dream was that I’d completely slept through the nomination announcements. That scared me so much I immediately woke up and got to the TV on time. True story.
I had Oscar anxiety not only because these awards have meant a lot to me since childhood but because I was intensely curious about the results. This was supposed to be the most up in the air Oscar race in years, and I wanted to know how, no pun intended, things would shape up.
Click through for portraits of the 2018 Oscar acting nominees.(Los Angeles Times)
Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
Full coverage of the 2018 Oscar nominations
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Meryl Streep, “The Post”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)
Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
For though we live in an age awash with awards prognosticators and websites that claim to chart who is up and who is down on an almost daily basis, nothing predicts the Oscars like the Oscars, and no amount of reading Golden Globes and SAG tea leaves can give you a clear idea of what those voters will do.
For with its 8,000-plus members spread across all the motion picture crafts, the academy is its own beast, an organization with its own particular dislikes and likes, for instance recognizing Denzel Washington’s strong work in the little-seen “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” while other groups did not.
Also, because of the academy’s recent push for diversity, its welcome decision to add new members, the voting mix is even more volatile and unpredictable than usual.
Would these new voters change the academy or would the academy change them? What would this reconstituted group end up liking?
The answer to that question is, overwhelmingly, Guillermo del Toro’s masterful “The Shape of Water,” which easily led all comers with 13 nominations.
Best news for that romantic fantasy/fantasy romance was the way it balanced below-the-line and above-the-line nominations, including the surprise of having three of its actors – Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins – getting nods.
Also a constant this year as always with the academy is a respect for craft. Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” got eight nominations, second only to “The Shape of Water” and “Blade Runner 2049,” which, though dismissed by audiences, got the five nominations it deserved.
More of a surprise, though a gratifying one, were the six nominations for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” a film that was given short shrift by other groups and prognosticators. Though its romantic plot is a bit twisted, “Phantom Thread” is impeccably made from top to bottom and that clearly carried a lot of weight with the academy.
A composite of the best motion picture nominees. from top left, “The Shape of Water,” “Dunkirk,” “Lady Bird,” “The Post,” “Get Out,” “Victoria & Abul,” “Call Me by Your Name,” “Darkest Hour” and “Phantom Thread.”(Kerry Hayes / Fox / Melissa Sue Gordon / WB / Merie Wallace / A24 / Universal / Peter Mountain / Focus / Sony / Stephen Vaughan / Wilson Webb / TriStar / Jack English / Laurie )
WINNER: Best picture; Directing; production design; original score | NOMINATED: Richard Jenkins -- performance by an actor in a supporting role; Sally Hawkins -- performance by an actress in a leading role; Octavia Spencer -- performance by an actress in a supporting role; cinematography; costume design; film editing; sound editing; sound mixing; and original screenplay.(Kerry Hayes / Fox Searchlight Pictures via AP)
WINNER: Frances McDormand -- performance by an actress in a leading role; Sam Rockwell -- performance by an actor in a supporting role | NOMINATED: Woody Harrelson -- performance by an actor in a supporting role; ; film editing; original score; best picture; and original screenplay.(Merrick Morton / Fox Searchlight via AP)
WINNER: Gary Oldman -- performance by an actor in a leading role; makeup and hairstyling | NOMINATED: Cinematography; costume design; best picture; and production design.(Jack English / Focus Features via AP)
WINNER: Original screenplay | NOMINATED: Daniel Kaluuya -- performance by an actor in a leading role; directing; best picture.(Universal Pictures via AP)
WINNER: Adapted screenplay | NOMINATED: Timothee Chalamet -- performance by an actor in a leading role; original song (“Mystery Of Love”); best picture.(Sony Pictures Classics via AP)
WINNER: Best animated feature film; Original song -- “Remember Me.”(Disney-Pixar via AP)
WINNER: Allison Janney -- performance by an actress in a supporting role | NOMINATED: Margot Robbie -- performance by an actress in a leading role; and film editing.(Neon via AP)
WINNER: Visual effects | NOMINATED: cinematography, production design, sound editing, sound mixing.( Stephen Vaughan / Warner Bros. Pictures)
WINNER: Sound editing; sound mixing; film editing | NOMINATED: Cinematography; directing; original score; best picture; production design.(Melissa Sue Gordon / Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
WINNER: Costume design | NOMINATED: Daniel Day-Lewis -- performance by an actor in a leading role; Lesley Manville -- performance by an actress in a supporting role; directing; original score; and best picture.(Laurie Sparham / Focus Features via AP)
Judi Dench, left, stars as Queen Victoria and Ali Fazal stars as Abdul Karim in the film “Victoria & Abdul.” The film received two Oscar nominations in costume design and makeup/hairstyling.(Peter Mountain / Focus Features)
Tom Hanks portrays Ben Bradlee, left, and Meryl Streep portrays Katharine Graham in a scene from “The Post.” The film received two Oscar nominations: best picture, and Meryl Streep for best actress.(Niko Tavernise / 20th Century Fox via AP)
Ansel Elgort, right, and Jamie Foxx in a scene from “Baby Driver.” The film got three Oscar nominations, for film and sound editing, and sound mixing.(Wilson Webb / Sony / TriStar Pictures via AP)
Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” The film got four Oscar nominations: original score, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.(John Wilson / Lucasfilm via AP)
A scene from “Mudbound.” The film received four Oscar nominations.
Mary J. Blige -- performance by an actress in a supporting role; cinematography; original song (“Mighty River”) and adapted screenplay.(Steve Dietl / Netflix via AP)
Dan Stevens as the Beast, left, and Emma Watson as Belle in a live-action adaptation of the animated classic “Beauty and the Beast.” The film received two Oscar nominations: in costume and production design.
(Disney via AP)
Saoirse Ronan, left, and Laurie Metcalf in a scene from “Lady Bird.” The film got five Oscar nominations. Saoirse Ronan -- performance by an actress in a leading role; Laurie Metcalf -- performance by an actress in a supporting role; directing; best picture; and original screenplay.(Merie Wallace / A24 via AP)
Overall, the 2018 nominations revealed a Motion Picture Academy not radically transformed but rather in the process of change.
Like an enormous ocean-going tanker, which it often resembles, this group alters direction slowly and with difficulty, but change was definitely visible this year.
On the one hand, several films that would not have been considered Oscar material in the past, like the razzle-dazzle heist movie “Baby Driver” (which got a trio of sound and editing nods) were smiled on this year.
The biggest beneficiaries of that change were Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.”
While an earlier generation of social commentary genre films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” were not awards season players, “Get Out” came away with four key nominations, including Peele for writing and directing, star Daniel Kaluuya for best actor, and best picture.
The outcome was similar for “Lady Bird,” an emotional knockout that might have seemed too small-scale in previous years but got five nominations this time, including for best picture, co-stars Saoirse Ronan and Leslie Metcalf, and a rare female directing nomination as well as a writing nod for Greta Gerwig.
Still, the traditional old-school aspects of the academy refused to go quietly into the night. “Darkest Hour,” for instance, a Dunkirk-themed dinosaur enlivened only by Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill, came away with six nominations, including best picture.
Not surprisingly, the films that did best this year were the ones that adroitly threaded the needle between modern and traditional.
This group included “Dunkirk,” which used an unusual time structure to tell an old-school World War II story, and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” filled with wicked twists that upended conventional expectations.
No film did that threading better than “The Shape of Water.” By telling a recognizable genre story with spectacular craft and modern “the monster gets the girl” unconventionality, it established itself as the favorite. Victory is very far from inevitable -- the Oscars never are that simple -- but it is definitely the one to dream on.
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