With less than a week to go to the pinnacle of awards season, I’ve gathered my thoughts on the most nominated contenders to compile an Oscar Shorthand.
The Favourite – Nominated for 10 Academy Awards
(Best Picture, Best Director, Leading Actress, Supporting Actress x2, Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costume Design, Cinematography and Film Editing)
Come into a Yorgos Lanthimos film with no preconceptions other than what you’re about to witness is like nothing else in cinema today. That’s what The Favourite, arguably his most orchestrated mainstream project yet, promises to be. After nearly twenty years of production hell, the script loosely based on the reign of Queen Anne, was repeatedly shelved due to the absence of a leading man and the non-traditional romances that ensue. The point is, that it truly is different and it’s refreshing to see such an absurdly intelligent period drama.
Olivia Colman’s Queen Anne is destined to be monarch only by blood, as evidenced by the blundering incompetence that characterises her reign. The vulnerable Queen therefore, is at the behest of the opinions of the surrounding ladies in waiting. Rachel Weisz, is the incumbent assistant, acting as the master puppeteer in the background. It is when Emma Stone’s unassuming character emerges as a challenge that proceedings heat up. In one of her most endearing and daring roles she draws on her cute and cunning ways to gradually hack away at the balance of power. Most striking for me were the parallels with All About Eve, Stone deliberately making her mark by clawing her way to the top like Eve Harrington.
Lanthimos soars with a script propped up by pure intelligence, wit and anarchy. His story is cruel but the production is ravishing, regularly deploying the use of a fisheye lens.
Verdict: He should be in with a shot for Best Director, but most likely will be pipped to the post by Alfonso Cuaron.
Green Book – Nominated for 5 Academy Awards
(Best Picture, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay and Film Editing)
Viggo Mortensen’s character is handed the film’s’ namesake, the ‘Green Book’ in the first act, a helpful guide to restaurants and accommodation in the Deep South for African Americans. It’s a textbook depiction of what to do and what not to do and it’s likely that Peter Farrelly, the director was handed a similar piece of literature for the Hollywood ‘buddy’ movie.
Green Book is loosely based on the story of Don Shirley, a graceful and high end black pianist. He requires a driver for his tour of the Deep South in the early 1960’s and chooses Tony Vallelonga, an Italian tough nut from the Bronx. They embark on a road trip and immediately the standard buddy movie tropes are at play: the initial dissonance and revile for the other, followed by sweet moments of understanding. It’s an inverse of Driving Miss Daisy, even oddly mirroring reflections of Pretty Woman with Don Shirley eager to smarten up the expletive-ridden discourse of Tony.
On the surface it works, but from a foundational perspective, there’s gaps. Incongruent moments in the script occur, which when conveyed in a linear manner don’t quite add up. Certain revelations unfold which doesn’t even stump Mortensen’s character for a second, when it should. His character, Tony is meant to be a raging racist, having communicated this character trait very clearly at the beginning. Despite this, and his proximity to Don Shirley throughout, it rarely surfaces. Had the writer emphasised this and embedded it more, it would have been far more powerful. I certainly don’t mean to imply that Vallelonga should have been more racist, but the deliberate indication that he was in the first place, was never revisited. The absence of this thread means that as a character he had very little to overcome.
Another puzzling aspect was the manner in which racial prejudice in the Deep South was depicted by the periphery characters. It was lazy for the screenwriter to paint all of these as villainous characters. When in fact much of it spurned by misinformation, bias and prejudices with only a select few taking it to an extreme level. It all made sense for the plot however, just like the sing off or final performance in a B-movie, the writer could seal it all up with an obnoxious, public showdown. For a story that could have benefitted from a nuanced unraveling of their hand, they were adamant at laying all their cards on the table.
To tell truth however, it truly is an enjoyable film. I enjoyed it thoroughly in the moment and it affected me in the way movies should. It’s this entertainment factor that has likely carried the film throughout awards season. Viggo Mortensen is the standout performance here, his endearing street guile and no qualms attitude is thoroughly memorable. There’s even elements of a Stanley Kowalski shining through as he devours his food like a mammal in scenes, which are set pieces in and of themselves. Despite being one of his more reserved performances, the graceful turn of Mahershala Ali is also outstanding. These two actors charm and play up to the audience and it is their command over their craft which has likely elevated this film. By no means is it the best film of the year, but if you wish to see best-in-class performances and light entertainment you certainly will receive.
Verdict: Viggo Mortensen deserves the leading actor award, but will likely go to Christian Bale or Rami Malek. Again, Mahershala is in with a chance of getting that supporting Oscar for the second time.
Vice – Nominated for 8 Academy Awards
(Best Picture, Best Director, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Screenplay and Film Editing)
I’ll say it from the outset, the most irritating element of Vice is its unabashedly demeaning manner of storytelling. It has a very similar storytelling narrative to The Big Short where arguably, it worked far better. The Big Short chronicled the complicated world of bonds and stocks and shares, which needed to be put into layman’s terms. McKay took the same approach here, and to his detriment. Unlike the broad communication of the economic downturn, this was about one man and his story. Sweeping statements at the start, spell out presumably what he wanted to communicate. With scripts, the rule of thumb is that the screenwriter should always be two steps ahead. McKay made a disastrous mistake when he thought he could keep himself and the audience on an even keel throughout.
Christian Bale’s performance is commendable, his mannerisms are eerily precise, mimicking the midwestern drawl of Cheney. By no means is it a standout performance however, in the sense that internalising the character of a stoic man, shouldn’t equate to an underwhelming performance.
There’s also unnecessary elements that should have worked, like a tongue in cheek moment when the Cheney’s have an entire conversation in Shakespearean prose. It was lengthy and unnatural: an indication of what the rest of the film entails. It’s not all bad however, Amy Adams gives a superb performance as his wife, the fiery Lynn Cheney. There’s also a particularly clever sequence of note in a restaurant, where Cheney and his associates are dining off the elusive menu of executive orders. ‘I’ll have a slice of Guantanamo Bay,’ they say, before exclaiming ‘we’ll take the lot!’
Verdict: Christian Bale is likely heading for his second Oscar, but Vice shouldn’t appear in any of the other major categories.
Roma – Nominated for 10 Academy Awards
(Best Picture, Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film, Leading Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing)
The magic of Roma must be detailed at length and can be found here.
A Star is Born – Nominated for 8 Academy Awards – Nominated for 8 Academy Awards
(Best Picture, Leading Actor, Leading Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Sound Mixing and Original Song.
Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut was a wonderful addition to this years’ shortlist. An entire post dedicated to A Star is Born can be found here.
On the Night
There will always be surprises at the Academy Awards, it’s just a case of where it arises on the night. Rami Malek could shock everyone with a leading actor win, or Paul Schrader could triumph in the Best Original Screenplay race for First Reformed, over The Favourite – anything is possible.
The Academy has been known in recent years to split the Best Picture / Best Director prize between two worthy films, but all the signs are pointing towards Roma taking home both statues. The Favourite could come up on the outside for Best Director but it’s a long shot. For me, the worthy winners are Roma, The Favourite and A Star is Born.