Not-Oscars 2018

not-oscars-2018

The Academy is always a little bit wrong, which is why I write this post every year. Inevitably, there are writers, directors, actors, composers, and others who don’t get their just desserts from the Academy when nominees are announced — and those whose work is too niche, or too gene, to ever have a chance at Oscar gold in the first place.

But this year, the Oscars are really wrong.

Films like Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice, and Green Book have fared much better this awards season than they really should, and they’re likely to take home and Oscar or two. (God forbid — maybe even Best Picture.) But the Academy has made some inexplicably bad decisions behind the scenes, too — the stillborn Best Popular Film category, the announcement of Kevin Hart as this year’s host, the decision to cut all but two Original Song nominees, the decision to not air four of the categories live. All of these have been undone thanks to widespread backlash from the fans who actually watch and care about the Oscars, who are justifiably angry about ABC and the Academy changing the telecast to cater to those who do not. You would think they’d have gotten the message the first time: Don’t Fuck With Our Oscars. But they’ve had to learn again, and again, and again.

On the plus side, more categories than not are wide open, with multiple plausible winners. Some categories have frontrunners, and others — including the big prize, Best Picture — are anybody’s guess. It’s the most suspenseful, unpredictable Oscar race in recent memory. Anything could happen! (Except for my favorites winning Oscars — because most weren’t even nominated.)

never-look-away-tom-schilling

BEST DIRECTOR

Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck — Never Look Away

Lee Chang-dong — Burning
Steve McQueen — Widows
Alfonso Cuarón
 — Roma
Drew Goddard Bad Times At The El Royale

There aren’t many auteurs making pulpy genre movies, which is why I appreciate Drew Goddard. His directorial followup to The Cabin In The Woods is another movie-lover’s feast, pulling in reference points from multiple genres in this suspense thriller that’s part Hitchcock, part Tarantino, and all kinds of delicious. Alfonso Cuarón isn’t in any danger of flying under the radar this year, but it’s hard to deny Roma‘s impeccable craftsmanship. It’s practically a textbook unto itself. Steve McQueen imbues Widows with the kind of elegance normally reserved for a social drama — which Widows is, in part. But it’s also a genre movie that happens to be about as slick as a movie can be.

Honorable Mentions:
Barry Jenkins — If Beale Street Could Talk
Jeremiah Zachar— We The Animals

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BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Eighth Grade — Bo Burnham

First Reformed — Paul Schrader
Support The Girls — Andrew Bujalski
Never Look Away — Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck
Bad Times At The El Royale — Drew Goddard

In the endless era of sequels and reboots, it’s a true pleasure to have someone like Drew Goddard making substantive popcorn movies that aren’t based on anything (though Bad Times At The El Royale definitely nods to Hitchcock, Tarantino, and the Coen brothers.) Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck used artist Gerhard Richter’s experience as a template to tell a more universal story about the way art reflects the artist’s trauma — whether they know it or not. It’s one of the most fascinating screen depictions of the artistic process — a real feat, when you consider how many films fail to make the creation of great art truly compelling. Bujalski’s Support The Girls is a warm, wonderful screenplay about ordinary women getting through an ordinary day, a quiet tribute to the unsung heroes of this world. Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is a spiritual sequel to one of the greatest films ever made, Taxi Driver, exploring a whole new generation’s hopeless malaise (and, as a bonus, mankind’s inevitable doom). His script is deceptively simple but impossibly dense. But I’m giving my top prize to Bo Burnham’s savvy, cliche-free Eighth Grade, which I had the pleasure of reading several years ago. I instantly recognized the movie’s unique potential based on what was on the page, and Burnham miraculously translated that into a feature film with the same oddball energy, placing us deeper in the heart, mind, and soul of a nerdy teenage girl than we’ve ever been before. It’s a pretty singular achievement from a twentysomething dude.

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BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Widows — Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen

Burning — Lee Chang-dong
If Beale Street Could Talk — Barry Jenkins
A Private War — Arash Amel
We The Animals — Jeremiah Zagar & Dan Kitrosser

We The Animals translates an immersive, emotive novella into a movie with equal power, using just the right amount of voiceover from the source material in just the right places. A Private War avoids the pitfalls of most stories about “tough” women, portraying Marie Colvin as both complicated and courageous, placing her own turmoil in context alongside much bigger global conflicts. If Beale Street Could Talk is another tricky adaptation, and while Jenkins’ direction may all but steal the movie, the script’s structure and dialogue wonderfully complement the gorgeous visuals. Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, more loosely based on stories by Haruki Murakami and William Faulkner, creates an unnerving atmosphere of uncertainty, providing both clues and contradictions regarding its central mysteries, and keeping the audience as off-balance as its protagonist. But my winner is Widows, which packs a heaping helping of social commentary in with a very watchable heist thriller, and does both with equal panache.

private-war-rosamund-pike

BEST ACTRESS

Rosamund Pike — A Private War

Carey Mulligan — Wildlife
Regina Hall — Support The Girls
Elsie Fisher — Eighth Grade
Natalie Portman — Vox Lux

Natalie Portman is only in the second half of Vox Lux, and her awards season campaigning placed her in the Supporting Actress category. But her deranged pop star is a larger than life character and a very big performance — about as big as a performance can be, actually, without heading into camp territory. She’s magnetic and fun to watch, and it looks like she’s having fun, too. Elsie Fisher is, perhaps, 2018’s breakout star, the perfect fit between actress and character as Eighth Grade‘s awkward wannabe Kayla. She’s hilarious in the role, but only because she never plays it for laughs. It’s hard to imagine what future roles Hollywood will find for this talented, relatable actress, but it’s impossible to think we won’t see her again soon. Like Fisher, Regina Hall plays a very average woman in Support The Girls, which might be one of the most difficult parts to pull off. Behind every mundane action at her dead-end job, we see an endless array of emotions play themselves out, telling a much larger story than it would appear. Carey Mulligan gives one of her most alluring (and underseen) performances as an unstable wife in Wildlife, oscillating wildly between sadness and mania and causing all kinds of discomfort for her endlessly patient teen son.

But it’s Rosamund Pike as the brutalized conflict journalist Marie Colvin who gives my favorite lead performance of the year. Over the course of the film, Pike’s Colvin loses both an eye and a tooth, as tragedy after tragedy piles up in her psyche — her own, and many more suffered across the world. Colvin is a trauma junkie, and it’d be easy to play her as a glutton for punishment, but Pike plays up her heart instead, imbuing the character with a distinct nobility that makes her all the more compelling. She really should have gotten some Oscar love this year.

Honorable Mentions:
Amandla Stenberg — The Hate U Give
Laura Dern — The Tale

ethan-hawke-first-reformed-best-actor.jpgBEST ACTOR

Ethan Hawke — First Reformed

Timothée Chalamet — Beautiful Boy
Stephan James — If Beale Street Could Talk
Tom Schilling — Never Look Away
Charlie Plummer  Lean On Pete

It’s not always easy to play nice, but as a newly orphaned teen striving to scrape by and survive, Charlie Plummer plays earnest like nobody’s business in Lean On Pete. Even when stealing or committing an act of self-preserving violence, Plummer projects a wholly believable air of innocence. It is similarly difficult to make painting compelling, but Tom Schilling expertly conveys an artist’s struggle, while also serving as Never Look Away‘s swoon-worthy romantic lead. Stephan James does so much with just his eyes in If Beale Street Could Talk, often looking directly at us — sometimes behind glass. His character spends much of the movie contained, but the performance never feels anything less than huge. Timothée Chalamet had some awards buzz for his portrayal of an addict in Beautiful Boy; most pegged him as a Supporting Actor, but it’s his performance, not Carell, that livens up this movie. He’s equally integral, if not moreso, to the film’s overall success (and it suffers when he’s not on screen).

But my favorite leading man of the year is one of the Academy’s most egregious snubs. Ethan Hawke has had a resurgence in aloof hipster dad roles in films like Boyhood, Before Midnight, and this year’s Juliet, Naked. But in First Reformed, he goes darker than we’re used to, delving into some no-nonsense Travel Bickel territory. Hawke’s performance is restrained, but underneath, we always sense that he’s wound up as tightly as can be. There’s a genuine threat that he’ll explode. The final act is a tough feat — keeping us on board with Reverend Toller’s actions, even at their most extreme.

Honorable Mentions:
Christian Malheiros — Socrates
Willem Dafoe — At Eternity’s Gate

We_The_Animals_Raul-Castillo.jpgBEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Raúl Castillo — We The Animals

Steven Yeun Burning
Brian Tyree Henry If Beale Street Could Talk
Philip EttingerFirst Reformed
Lewis PullmanBad Times At The El Royale

In a starry cast comprised of Jeff Bridges, Chris Hemsworth, Dakota Johnson, and Jon Hamm, Lewis Pullman makes one of the biggest impressions as the troubled manager of a desolate hotel. His Miles Miller at first appears uncomplicated and unremarkable, but soon reveals hidden depth and a hidden talent, resulting in one of the film’s most delightful turns. In a small but pivotal role as an expecting father who gives in to despair, Philip Ettinger casts a long shadow with a brief role in First Reformed, haunting the rest of the film with the disturbed psyche he transfers over to our protagonist. He has only one major scene to carry, but it could make or break the film. Brian Tyree Henry has an even smaller role in If Beale Street Could Talk as Daniel, a parolee who warns Tish and Fonny about the odds stacked against black men. It’s hands-down the film’s strongest scene. As Ben, the rich pretty boy who becomes the “other man” in a love triangle between shy, awkward Ah-in and vivacious Jong-seo, Steven Yeun would be the villain of the piece even without the arson and suspected murder. But Yeun keeps us so off-guard with his disarming charm, hinting at a pathological malevolence beneath a pristine facade.

But best of all is Raúl Castillo, formerly Jonathan Groff’s love interest on Looking, as a loving but sorely lacking husband and father in We The Animals. The protagonist’s father makes bad financial decisions, pities himself, can’t keep a job, and abuses his wife, but Castillo’s performance is complex enough that we keep wanting him to do better, and somehow make it work. Castillo’s character might receive more of our empathy than he really deserves, but he’s a large part of what makes We The Animals so much more than another story about a boy coming of age in a broken home. With this role, Castillo is primed to be both a formidable actor and a looming star.

Honorable Mentions:
Nicholas Hoult The Favourite
Daniel Kaluuya Widows

Widows Day 43_131.dng

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Elizabeth Debicki — Widows

Regina King If Beale Street Could Talk
Jeon Jong-seo Burning
Cynthia Erivo Bad Times At The El Royale
Haley Lu RichardsonSupport The Girls

You have to be smart to play dumb. Haley Lu Richardson has played smart characters, like the architecture nerd in last year’s Columbus, but she embodies a bimbo waitress perfectly in Support The Girls. It’s an easy role to play for laughs, but Richardson gives her sweetly simple character plenty of heart, too — and plenty of enthusiasm. Erivo is another breakout star of 2018, at least for audiences who haven’t caught her on Broadway. She was a memorable presence in Widows but had much more to do in Bad Times At The El Royale, playing the film’s most (or, perhaps, only) sympathetic character. As a down-on-her-luck Motown backup singer, Erivo provides Goddard’s film with much-needed soul, though she also gets a couple of great moments to hold her own against the more dastardly characters. In Burning, Jeon Jong-seo plays the love interest that comes between two men from opposite sides of the tracks. That can often be a thankless part, but Hae-mi is a mystery long before Burning provides us with one. She has a penchant for the invisible and imaginary, making it all the stranger when she herself disappears. Ordinarily, we might assume the worst, but Jeon Jong-seo’s performance suggests that this woman might just as easily have slipped out of town of her own volition. Regina King is up for a much-deserved Oscar as a determined soon-to-be grandmother. It’s a small but pivotal role in a film that depicts African-American characters combating a corrupt justice system, and King marvelously depicts a woman who will stop at nothing to reunite her daughter with the love of her life.

But my very favorite is Elizabeth Debicki in Widows. After a wicked turn in The Tale, Debicki stole Widows from some of the most formidable actors around, including Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Brian Tyree Henry, Cynthia Erivo, Carrie Coon, Jacki Weaver — some of whom I’ve called out as the best performers of the year elsewhere on this list. Her Alice could have been bimbo comic relief, but instead she’s the core cast member who undergoes the most growth, transitioning from abused wife to kept woman and, eventually, the agent of her own fate. If that weren’t enough, she also provides plenty of comic relief. It isn’t easy to steal a film from Viola Davis, but Debicki does it. Surely Hollywood has taken notice of her now.

Honorable Mentions:
Nicole Kidman — Boy Erased
Jennifer Jason Leigh — Annihilation

Bad-Times-at-the-El-Royale-jon-hamm-cynthia-erivo-lewis-pullman.jpg

BEST ENSEMBLE

Bad Times At The El Royale

If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows
Never Look Away
Annihilation

beale-street-harlem.jpg

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

If Beale Street Could Talk — James Laxton

RomaAlfonso Cuarón
Never Look Away —
Caleb Deschanel
Bad Times At The El Royale — 
Seamus McGarvey
Lean On Pete
Magnus Jønck

cynthia-erivo-car-gun-jeff-bridges-bad-times-el-royale.jpg

BEST EDITING

Bad Times At The El Royale — Lisa Lassek

The Tale — Anne Fabini, Alex Hall, Gary Levy
Minding The Gap — Joshua Altman, Bing Liu
We The Animals — Keiko Deguchi, Brian A. Kates
Eighth Grade — Jennifer Lilly

never-look-away-florian-henckel-von-donnersmarck.jpgBEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Never Look Away — Max Richter

If Beal Street Could TalkNicholas Britell
Minding The Gap
Nathan Halpern & Chris Ruggerio
Widows — Hans Zimmer
Annihilation — Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow

Regina-king-beale-street

BEST MOTHER

Regina King — If Beale Street Could Talk

Jennifer Garner Love, Simon
Sally Hawkins — Paddington 2
Regina Hall The Hate U Give
Claire Foy First Man

josh-hamilton-elsie-fisher-eighth-grade

BEST FATHER

Josh Hamilton — Eighth Grade

Colman Domingo If Beale Street Could Talk
Steve Carell Beautiful Boy
Russell Hornsby The Hate U Give
John Cho Searching

heriditary_toni-collette.jpg

WORST MOTHER

Toni Collette — Hereditary

Jacki Weaver Widows
Miranda July Madeline’s Madeline
Jamie Lee Curtis Halloween
Sandra Bullock Bird Box

sebastian-koch-never-look-away.jpgWORST FATHER

Sebastian Koch — Never Look Away

Liam Neeson Widows
Jorge Antonio Guerrero Roma
Christian Bale Vice
Alex Manette You Were Never Really Here

nakia-tchalla-shuri-lupita-nyongo-black-panther-chadwick-boseman

BEST SIBLING

Letitia Wright — Black Panther

John C. Reilly The Sisters Brothers
Teyonah Parris If Beale Street Could Talk
Stacy Martin Vox Lux
Sam ElliotA Star Is Born

blake-lively-simple-favor-rain-umbrella.jpgWORST SIBLING

Blake Lively — A Simple Favor

Cailee Spaeny Bad Times At The El Royale
Ansel Elgort Jonathan
Lucas Hedges Mid90s
Kyle Chandler Game Night

Can You Ever Forgive Me-melissa-mccarthy-richard-e-grant.jpgBEST FRIENDSHIP

Melissa McCarthy & Richard E. Grant — Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Camila Morrone & Maia Mitchell — Never Goin’ Back
Charlie Hunnam & Rami Malek
Papillon
Regina Hall, Haley Lu Richardson & Shayna McHale —
Support The Girls
Elsie Fisher & Jake Ryan —
Eighth Grade

joanna-kulig-cold-war-drinking-vodka.jpg

WORST RELATIONSHIP

Joanna Kulig & Thomasz Kot — Cold War

Glenn Close & Jonathan Pryce The Wife
Yalitza Aparacio & Jorge Antonio Guerrero Roma
Saoirse Ronan & Billy Howle On Chesil Beach
Raúl Castillo & Sheila Vand — We The Animals

sorry-to-bother-you-lakeith_stanfield_armie_hammer.jpgBEST VILLAIN

Armie Hammer — Sorry To Bother You

Daniel Kaluuya — Widows
Hugh GrantPaddington 2
Anders Danielsen Lie — 22 July
Chris Hemsworth — Bad Times At The El Royalhotsummernights-SXSW.jpg

WORST AT BEING RICH

Timothée Chalamet Hot Summer Nights

Bradley Cooper A Star Is Born
Olivia Colman The Favourite
Michelle Yeoh — Crazy Rich Asians
Zoe Kravitz Gemini

charlie-plummer-Lean-on-Pete.jpgBEST AT BEING POOR

Charlie Plummer — Lean On Pete

Camila Morrone & Maia Mitchell Never Goin’ Back
Richard E. Grant Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Brady Jandreau — The Rider
Thomasin McKenzie Leave No Trace
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BEST MUSICAL MOMENT

A Star Is Born — Ally and Jackson perform “Shallow”

Burning — Stripping to Miles Davis’ “Générique” at sunset
Bohemian Rhapsody 
Queen’s “Live Aid” concert
Sorry To Bother You
 — Cash raps “N**** Shit”
Bad Times At The El Royale — Darlene sings a Motown distraction

amanda-seyfried-ethan-hawke-first-reformed-magical-mystery-tour

BEST FLIGHT

Ethan Hawke & Amanda Seyfried — First Reformed

Evan Rosado — We The Animals
The avatars in the nightclub — Ready Player One
Tim Blake Nelson — The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs
Tom Cruise — Mission: Impossible – Fallouthereditary-alex_Wolff.jpg

WORST DRIVING

Alex Wolff — Hereditary

Jason Clarke — Chappaquiddick
Charlize Theron — Tully
Unseen motorist — Lean On Pete
John Huston — The Other Side Of The Wind

annihilation-natalie-portman-tessa-thompson-jennifer-jason-leigh-gina-rodriguez

Best Of Film 2018

The Not-Oscars 2017

The Not-Oscars 2016

The Not-Oscars 2015

The Not-Oscars 2014

The Not-Oscars 2013

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2 replies »

  1. Hi! I’m a friend of Duke’s and long time lurker and fan of your blog, just wanted to drop a note saying I particularly enjoy your annual Not Oscar’s, especially the oddball made-up categories. Thanks and keep it up, and thanks for being a foil on Duke’s podcast too, someone’s gotta keep him in line :)

    Cheers!
    Union

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