The Good, the Bad, and the 'Jane' Snub: Thoughts on the Oscar Nominations

The Shape of Water leads the nominations
There was a little something for everyone as Oscar voters shared the wealth today. Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water led the nominations with 13 citations including Best Picture. The top category had nine spots this year and once again fell short of filling out the potential tenth Best Picture berths. If it didn’t happen this year, it’s probably never going to be a full house. The other films that landed with The Shape of Water in the Best Picture race were Dunkirk (woohoo!), Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Darkest Hour, Call Me By Your Name, Lady Bird, Get Out, Phantom Thread, and the film that had me on edge throughout the nominations, The Post.

Shape took frontrunner status partly due to its epic haul, but also partly to the shortfalls of the other contenders. Three Billboards all but seemed like the one to beat Sunday night when it scooped three SAG wins while Shape wasn't even nominated for Best Ensemble. However, Billboards helmer Martin McDonagh missed the cut for Best Director, which, statistically, makes it very hard to win the top prize unless you're Ben Affleck. (But the last film to win Best Picture without landing a SAG ensemble nom was Braveheart, so make of that what you will of Shape's chances.) McDonagh joined Steven Spielberg in losing out to dark horse Paul Thomas Anderson, whose Phantom Thread crashed the party.

I was very surprised when The Post failed to land below the line nominations. I assumed it might have been a late-breaking success, like American Sniper or The Revenant, and it really boggles my mind that a film directed by Steven Spielberg starring heavyweights Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in a timely story didn’t pull through. When it missed costumes to Victoria & Abdul, I was a bit worried, but as much as I loved that gold caftan Meryl wore in the film, the costumes for the Judi Dench comedy were admittedly better. And when The Post missed out on its score (but John Williams got one for his rinse and repeat work on Star Wars), film editing, and—gasp!—its excellent screenplay, I thought it was done for. I mean, even Spielberg’s War Horse got six nominations!

But Meryl pulled through in the end.

Not since the 2012 Oscars have I fist-pumped so hard. When the names for Best Actress began at Sally Hawkins, I knew that Judi Dench and Jessica Chastain, Streep’s top competition, missed the cut. It was a given that Hawkins would be joined by Margot Robbie, Frances McDormand, and Saoirse Ronan, but it one didn’t need to worry about that fifth name being Kate Winslet. Streep beat her own record to score her 21st nomination and I’m thrilled that the Academy recognized on of her best performances. Hilariously, prior to the announcement, the total number of nominations that the 19 other acting nominees had combined was 29 to Streep’s 20.

It’s a bit weird since I’ve already pledged by support for Margot Robbie’s turn in I, Tonya as the performance of the year and I’ll continue to do so, as well for her co-star Allison Janney, who has eyes on the prize after taking all the awards that really count—the Golden Globe, SAG, and Critics Choice—the past few weeks. Even weirder, the fact that The Post only landed two nominations means that this will be the first year I’m rooting for a film to win Best Picture and…nothing else.

Other good news came in the Best Foreign Language Film category, which recognized the three strongest remaining contenders: Swedish Cannes winner The Square, Lebanese legal drama The Insult, and the whimsically intoxicating Hungarian romance On Body and Soul, which literally had not a single pundit predicting its nomination but, like Meryl, pulled through in the end. Those films joined Chile’s A Fantastic Woman and Russia’s Loveless in a race that’s virtually open now that Golden Globe winner In the Fade is (thankfully) out.

It was very good news for Canada this morning too. Co-production The Breadwinner was a worthy nominee for Best Animated Feature (but, sadly, the superior underdog Window Horses was not). Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 scored four nominations (but, sadly, not for any of the Canadians). The Toronto-shot The Shape of Water, however, had a few Canucks among the nominees including production design nominees Paul Austerberry, Shane Viau, and Jeffrey Melvin, costume designer Luis Sequeira, film editor Sidney Wolinsky, and sound team Christian T. Cooke, Glen Gauthier, Brad Zoern, Nathan Robitaille, and Nelson Ferreira.

In addition to being a good friend to Canada, The Shape of Water highlighted an exceptional year for horror at the Oscars. Speculative cinema scored a nominee in every major category thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s monster movie and to Jordon Peele’s terrifying social satire Get Out. Incorrectly but strategically pitched as a comedy to the Golden Globes (it has a comic relief character), Get Out hit a major cultural nerve this year with its bold take on race relations and white supremacy. It might not have made my top ten, but I certainly appreciate its significance in the race.

Canada’s finest actor, Christopher Plummer, broke the record to become the oldest acting nominee ever for his performance as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World. Plummer surely broke another record in terms of turnaround between filming and nomination thanks to his last minute replacement of Kevin Spacey following allegations of sexual harassment and advances towards minors. The nomination was a testament to Plummer’s skills and professionalism, and one of several implicit nods to the post-Weinstein/Spacey cultural shift. A strong presence for women felt in tune with the #MeToo movement, like Gerwig (Lady Bird) for directing, Tatiana S. Riegel (I, Tonya) for editing, and Rachel Morrison (Mudbound) for cinematography in the category’s first-ever nomination for a woman.

There was some speculation that Best Actor absentee James Franco didn’t make the cut due to allegations of sexual misconduct levelled at him (which he accepted to a degree) following his Golden Globe win. I don’t quite buy this theory since the scandal broke less than two days before ballots were due. He probably lost a few votes to his bad behaviour, but I think the omission is mostly because one needs to have seen The Room to appreciate his performance in The Disaster Artist and very few Academy members probably wasted their time on Tommy. Franco also missed at the BAFTAs, which might support this assessment, while the SAG has a younger voting body, which might be kinder to the celebration of the worst movie ever made.

However, Franco’s snub didn’t make room for Tom Hanks, but for Denzel Washington’s perfectly decent performance (but nothing more) in Dan Gilroy’s crappy legal drama Roman J. Israel, Esq. The film was one of the huge critical bombs at TIFF and failed to connect with critics and audiences upon its release. Also giving cause for eyeballs to roll was the screenplay for Logan, which somehow made history as the first superhero movie to land a writing nomination. It bested the likes of Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, Todd Haynes’s Wonderstruck, and Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father and indicated that the Academy still has some work to do when it comes to who is filling out the ballots.

The big screw-up of the day, however, was the shocking snub of Brett Morgen’s Jane in the documentary category. The astonishingly assembled film about Jane Goodall was cut together from over a hundred hours of National Geographic footage chucked haphazardly in a box and simply deserved a nomination for its technical and artistic merit. The few whispers that it wasn’t popular with the doc branch seemed to clash with the overwhelming support from critics, audiences, and industry guilds. (Jane was the only doc to land nominations at all the major industry guilds.) It should have landed nominations for Best Film Editing and for Best Original Score with Philip Glass’s wall-to-wall score. But documentaries again failed to be recognized outside of the token category and more than just the doc branch screwed up on this one. Agnès Varda and JR’s masterfully humanist portrait of local character Faces Places officially became the frontrunner, but Jane’s jaw-dropping snub proved one thing that has been lost year after year recently: sometimes a contender just doesn’t make the cut. There wasn’t a bad word about Jane to be heard.

The nominees:

Best Picture
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread

Best Director
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Greta GerwigLady Bird
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Jordan Peele, Get Out

Best Actress
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post

Best Actor
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq. 

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Documentary
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
Faces Places
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

Best Foreign Language Film
Chile - A Fantastic Woman
Hungary – On Body and Soul
Lebanon - The Insult
Russia - Loveless
Sweden - The Square

Get the rest of the nominees here.

What do you think of the nominees?