Oscar nominations 2018: a cautious, comfort-food list in Trumpian times
The Shape of Water leads a nominations list that offers up exotic fantasy and imagined past, but is missing something truly ferocious and polarising.
The alchemy has bubbled, the mysterious tipping point has been achieved, and the Academy Awards consensus is coalescing around Guillermo del Toro’s swooning sci-fi romance The Shape of Water, with 13 nominations. That’s way ahead of Christopher Nolan’s colossal cine-installation Dunkirk (eight nominations), and Martin McDonagh’s fierce tragicomedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (seven).
Then there is Joe Wright’s rousing wartime drama Darkest Hour, featuring Gary Oldman’s tremendous Churchill turn, which gets six – and so does Paul Thomas Anderson’s glorious drama Phantom Thread, which is my favourite of this list so far. Denis Villeneuve’s futurist dystopian spectacular Blade Runner 2049 comes in with five — and this must surely be the year for cinematographer Roger Deakins, although this gets no best picture nomination. Five too for Dee Rees’s Mudbound and the much-loved Lady Bird, and it’s a huge relief to see Greta Gerwig get her best director nomination, putting a stop to the stag-invite stigma that had recently attached to this list. Jordan Peele’s exquisitely nasty race satire Get Out has four, along with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Luca Guadagnino’s passionate love story Call Me By Your Name, one of which is for Timothée Chalamet’s tremendous lead performance as one of the lovers.
But isn’t this a bit of a cautious, comfort-food nomination list? Oscars to soothe everyone in troubled Trumpian times? A brilliant exercise in exotic fantasy in an imagined American past, and some rousing journeys back to Britain’s wartime past in Dunkirk and Darkest Hour? Creatures in the water … Winston in the bath? I wonder. The Shape of Water is great: but Hollywood feels on the back foot right now. The movie establishment might in other circumstances feel moved to let rip with rage at the hated pussy-grabber. But the Weinstein fallout is clearly making the tuxed throng of awards season feel they’re living in too a fragile a glass house from which to be throwing stones. The Post — a movie which feels tacitly anti-Trump — has not made much of a ripple. As for the documentary nomination list, there are some great movies on there. But I’m waiting for a Michael Moore moment, a repudiation of politeness, a confronting of the elephant in the Oval Office, a ferocious upsetting of the apple-cart — something to infuriate both the conservatives and the sensible liberals.
As for snubs, Greta Gerwig’s nomination heads off the immediate objection on grounds of male sexual politics, and so does Agnès Varda’s Faces Places and Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul on the best foreign language list. The #OscarsSoWhite issue can also be said to have been pre-empted — although many would have liked to see Dee Rees in there for Mudbound, and the complete wipeout for Kathryn Bigelow’s fierce movie Detroit, with John Boyega, will surely be a bitter disappointment. The same goes for Alexander Payne’s quirky fantasy-satire Downsizing, which failed to capture the Academy’s imagination, and also for Robin Campillo’s brilliant BPM. Steven Spielberg’s The Post collected just two nominations: one for best picture and one for Meryl Streep’s performance, naturally. It is very timid of the Academy not to have given a best picture nomination to Sean Baker’s wonderful social-realist movie The Florida Project, but Willem Dafoe thoroughly deserves his best supporting actor nomination for this film. It’s disappointing that Call Me By Your Name’s Michael Stulhbarg doesn’t have an Oscar nomination for his daring and moving performance.
Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread. Photograph: Allstar/Focus Features
Well, The Shape of Water is a film that has beguiled everyone who has seen it: and what it certainly has to offer is pure artistry and pure narcosis. It is not necessarily escapism, but immersion in an entire created world: a cinema of 360 degrees which is the product of passion and vanishingly rare.
Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is an extraordinary movie event, a roiling, swirling maelstrom of panoramic anxiety — compelling despite or because of its Beckettian problem of just waiting, waiting, waiting. It is a movie that is very dependent on its musical score, and Hans Zimmer’s composition gets a nomination: some of his best work here.
Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film that continues to divide audiences, on the grounds that racial injustice has been made subordinate to a white character’s moral redemption, a redemption which is not directly connected to the racism. It’s a serious criticism, but I find myself more inclined to accept the film’s good faith, and also to respond to the brilliant and charismatic performance of Frances McDormand, who is surely going to receive this year’s best actress Oscar.
Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out. Photograph: AP
From this list, there is no film to which I respond quite as strongly as Paul Thomas Anderson’s extravagantly theatrical, mysterious and masterly drama Phantom Thread, which is of course dominated by Daniel Day-Lewis as the imaginary couturier Reynolds Woodcock, who enters into an enigmatic romantic duel with his new muse, a German waitress played by the sadly un-nominated Vicky Krieps. Day-Lewis’s is a dazzlingly accomplished performance, lean, honed, refined, hyper-masculine. But this isn’t how Hollywood likes or understands its Brits, I think, and the Oscar is almost certainly going to go to Gary Oldman for his richly enjoyable and seamlessly latexed impersonation of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour — although there is an argument that Stephen Dillane deserved a best supporting actor nod for his studied portrayal of the insidious appeaser, Lord Halifax, in the same film.
What a glorious film Lady Bird is — wonderful to see nominations for Greta Gerwig as director and writer and also the acting nominations for Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf as the mother and daughter double-act: an all-too-real relationship, dysfunctional, painful, loving and sad. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a thrilling and confrontational film, a brilliant parable for the way that African-Americans feel about their post-Obama twist ending. It’s also the nearest thing this year’s Oscar nomination list has to a scary movie. Get Out is the most rock’n’roll film of this year’s Oscars. In many ways I’d love to see Daniel Kaluuya win best actor and the film itself win best picture, despite my unending, poignant crush on Daniel Day-Lewis. But when the envelopes are opened on Oscar night and their contents correctly identified, conventional good taste — in the overlapping forms of fantasy and history — is likelier to win out.