For Your Consideration

Jim Keller

As the sun finally sets on summer heretofore possibly known as “the rainy season”, it’s time for the second of a three-part series, which examines the roles that are likely to feature in the Best Actor race. In recent years, the eventual Best Picture winner had its big reveal at the Telluride Film Festival. The films of that festival (August 31 – September 3, 2018), along with the Venice International Film Festival (August 29 – September 8, 2018), the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, September 6 – 16, 2018) and, to a lesser degree, the New York Film Festival (September 28 – October 14, 2018), provide the majority of awards season fodder, and so begins the Oscar race. In fact, by this time last year, four out of five eventual Best Actor nominees were on the table following film festival premieres: Gary Oldman had become the frontrunner for Darkest Hour thanks to Telluride, the Sundance Film Festival gave us Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name) and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), and TIFF
gave us Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.).

Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) would follow in December after his film’s premiere in New York.

Before we peel back the layers of this year, let’s revisit the last one. Of the seven roles that were discussed here, four landed Best Actor nominations: Oldman, Chalamet, Washington, and Day-Lewis. From the outset, there was no stopping Oldman who after a 36-year career in the industry had not yet won an Oscar. The only person who gave him any chase was Chalamet who was never going to win because of his age and newbie status. And so, the veteran handily defeated the newbie.

As for the other performances discussed here, Christian Bale (Hostiles) was the only one left out in the cold, with Kaluuya taking the fifth slot. But Bale returns this year (see below). As for the others, the ship sailed on Hugh Jackman’s chances for a nomination when The Greatest Showman failed to deliver and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Stronger did not have enough support to make it a contender.

This year, we have someone I would refer to as a frontrunner but its early and I am not willing to cash that check just yet.

 

THE ROCKSTAR: Bradley Cooper – A Star Is Born (director: Bradley Cooper)

Bradley Cooper in “A Star is Born”

FYC: You have no doubt heard about the latest rendition of this timeless tale of love and stardom in which a musician (Cooper) helps a young songstress (Lady Gaga) rise to the top as his own career descends into darkness through his addiction.

With a current Metacritic Score of 88, it seems the fourth time is the charm for this version of the film. For a full summary of the other films’ brushes with Oscar, see last month’s column. Suffice to say that only the original (1937) had a Best Picture nomination, and the last time the film earned nominations for its stars was in 1954 (Judy Garland and James Mason). Cooper is mesmerizing as Jackson Maine—a man who spent most of his life on the road running away from his demons. The last time Cooper featured in the column was in November 2012 when the actor was first nominated for Best Actor for Silver Linings Playbook—the same film that would nab Jennifer Lawrence her best actress trophy. Back then, Cooper was mostly known for his work in The Hangover film series, and that film marked the point where Hollywood began to take him seriously as an actor. The following year Cooper was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for American Hustle and the year after that he earned his second Best Actor nomination for American Sniper, which also netted him an Oscar as producer. As for his Oscar chances this year, Cooper has the trifecta: he is overdue for a win, the film is playing like gangbusters, and he’s great in the film. The only thing going against him is that a Best Actor nominee has only won twice for a film that he directed himself: in 1949 when Laurence Olivier won for Hamlet and most recently in 1999 when Roberto Benigni won for Life is Beautiful. In fact, it is far more common in such a case for the nominee to win for directing the film: five out of 10 times. The remaining three instances, the nominee didn’t win either award.

 

THE VEEP: Christian Bale – Vice (director: Adam McKay):

Christian Bale in “Vice”

FYC: This biographical film stars Bale as Dick Cheney who rose from a bureaucratic Washington insider to the most powerful Vice President in America’s history, forever reshaping the country and the globe under president to George W. Bush. Bale won the first time he was nominated for his supporting role in The Fighter in 2011. He has since been nominated for Best Actor in 2014 for American Hustle and Best Supporting Actor for The Big Short in 2016. Based on the trailer, Bale appears to give a transformative performance something he did for The Fighter, where he lost 60 lbs. In Vice, he has packed on more than 40 lbs. But in a time when many are in dismay over the political climate, is anyone interested in revisiting another dark time in this country’s history?

 

THE SPACEMAN: Ryan Gosling – First Man (director: Damien Chazelle):

 FYC: Chazelle’s much anticipated follow-up to La La Land is a biographical drama based on James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong and centers on the legendary Apollo 11  mission that led Armstrong (Gosling) to become the first man to walk on the Moon in 1969. Gosling was nominated for Best Actor in 2007 for Half Nelson and again just last year for La La Land—the same role netted him the Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). This win followed four other Golden Globe nominations, including two in the same category: Lars and the Real Girl (2008) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2012), and two in Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama:  Blue Valentine (2011) and The Ides of March (also in 2012). Although Gosling will likely be nominated for his performance as the famous astronaut, the role is not showy. What’s more, if Leonardo DiCaprio’s long history of being overlooked by the Academy for a win is any indication, Gosling likely faces the same difficulty due to his own pretty boy status.

 

THE PHILANDERER: Hugh Jackman – The Frontrunner (director: Jason Reitman):

FYC: This biographical drama based on Matt Bai’s book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid chronicles the rise and fall of American Senator Gary Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign when he is caught in a love affair. Although Jackman was nominated for Best Actor in 2013 for Les Misérables, most of his awards recognition has come from the HFPA who first nominated him for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical in 2002 for Kate & Leopold. He won that Golden Globe award for Les Misérables and earned a third nomination in the category this year for The Greatest Showman. The film faces the same uphill climb as Vice but additionally, Jackman’s role here is a departure from the others he has been recognized for because it is neither comedic nor musical in nature.

 

THE CONVERT: Lucas Hedges – Boy Erased (director: Joel Edgerton):

FYC: The coming-of-age drama based on Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name follows the son of Baptist parents (Hedges) who is forced to participate in a gay conversion therapy program. At 21, Hedges star has only begun to rise but he already has a Best Supporting Actor nomination under his belt for 2016’s Manchester by the Sea. In 2016, the same performance earned him recognition across several precursor awards as he earned nominations from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and won the Breakthrough Performance – Male from the National Board of Review (NBR). He was also nominated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts EE Rising Star Award. Landing a spot in the top five may prove difficult for Hedges though because he has a second performance in contention for Ben is Back, which could work against him.

 

THE DRIVER: Viggo Mortensen – Green Book (director: Peter Farrelly):

FYC: In this film, a New York bouncer named Tony Lip (Mortensen) drives a Jamaican-American classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) on a tour through the 1960s American South. Mortensen has earned two Best Actor nominations, the first in 2008 for Eastern Promises and the second just last year for Captain Fantastic. He also has Golden Globe, BFCA, and SAG nominations for those films. Mortenson has a Supporting Actor Golden Globe nomination for 2011’s A Dangerous Method and a third BFCA Best Actor nomination for 2009’s The Road. Green Book’s status as the People’s Choice Award winner at TIFF makes the film a serious Best Picture contender, which only helps Mortensen’s bid for Best Actor. The last six films to win the award went on to be nominated for Best Picture.

 

THE SINGER: Rami Malek – Bohemian Rhapsody (director: Bryan Singer):

Rami Malek in “Bohemian Rhapsody”

FYC: This biographical film is focused on front man Freddie Mercury (Malek) and chronicles the years leading up to Queen’s legendary appearance at the Live Aid concert in 1985. Malek is best known for his work on television’s Mr. Robot for which he has two Golden Globe nominations for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama and two SAG nominations for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, both in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Bohemian Rhapsody marks Malek’s first leading role in a major film, and regardless of its mixed critics reviews, notably for historical inaccuracies, there has been unanimous praise for his performance. It is important to note that unlike Gosling in La La Land, Malek lip-synchs throughout the film, which could impact his chances for a nomination as the awards season progresses.

 

THE POLICE OFFICER: John David Washington – BlacKkKlansman (director: Spike Lee):

John David Washington in “BlacKkKlansman”

FYC: This biographical dramedy, based on Ron Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman, follows Stallworth (Washington), an African American police officer from Colorado Springs who sets out to infiltrate and expose the local Ku Klux Klan branch. Washington is the son of Oscar winner Denzel Washington and he only has eight acting credits to his name. Still, he is brilliant in this film as he deftly walks a tightrope between comedy and drama—all under the umbrella of a topic that carries as much relevance in America today as ever before: racism. This is to say nothing of the how Lee has used past events to amplify those in recent history, thereby delivering one hell of a powerful impact, which will likely be recognized in awards season and pull newcomer Washington along for the ride. But regardless of what happens in the awards race, Washington’s career is just beginning, and this film will forever mark a dark time in this nation’s history.

As always, there are more actors in the hunt for Oscar this year than I have the space to discuss. There’s Willem Dafoe’s turn as Vincent Van Gogh in At Eternity’s Gate—he has more than enough goodwill leftover following his Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Florida Project this year. Given that the film has the most Gotham Award nominations, including Best Feature and Best Actor, could Ethan Hawke breakthrough for First Reformed, which saw its release back in May? Or could the Academy swing the other way and recognize Robert Redford for his final performance in The Old Man & the Gun or Clint Eastwood for his late-breaking performance in his own film The Mule? Other performances from leading men to consider include Stephan James for If Beale Street Could Talk, John C. Reilly for Stan & Ollie, and Steve Carell for Welcome to Marwen. With the fall film festivals in the rearview, it’s time for the critic groups to weigh in and for a consensus to build. Until soon, Oscar watchers!

For Your Consideration – Ones to Watch, Vol. 1 Edition

Jim Keller

Following the Venice International Film Festival (August 29 – September 8, 2018) and the Telluride Film Festival (August 31 – September 3, 2018), the Oscar race is unofficially (or officially, depending on with whom you speak) underway. In many ways, the last Oscar race took place during the year of the woman. For one, people across America took part in the Women’s March—widely considered the largest single-day demonstration in the history of the U.S. But for another, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) tied a record for nominations of women set in 2016 by nominating them across most Oscar categories, including those traditionally dominated by men such as cinematography, directing or film editing. The official Academy tally shows that forty women received nominations in competitive, non-acting categories. Brava, but if the impending confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land is any indication, sadly there is a long, long, long way to go. So, let’s keep our attention on women and begin this first of a four-part series focused on the leading ladies of the Best Actress race.

Last year, we saw #OscarsSoWhite kept at bay for a second year in a row with people of color represented in the major categories, and of course, #MeToo was front and center with many stars wearing black at the Academy Awards in solidarity. I had asked in my first column of this series whether the Academy would shy away from the state of the nation under Trump’s thumb with their nominations or look him square in the eye. I would argue the latter based on how things shaped up. The critical reception of the films that will screen over the next couple of months will tell this year’s tale. For now, let’s examine last year’s Best Actress nomination results.

The Best Actress race saw Frances McDormand leading the field with her powerhouse performance in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri as Mildred, a mother who goes on a warpath against the complacent police department in her small town who failed to solve her daughter’s murder case. McDormand went on to win the Oscar but not without competition from Saoirse Ronan, who plays the titular teenager in the coming of age drama Lady Bird.

Of the roles that were discussed here, only two secured Best Actress nominations: the aforementioned McDormand and Meryl Streep for The Post. Mother! was too divisive for Jennifer Lawrence to get her foot in the door, and Kate Winslet’s shot with Wonder Wheel went down along with helmer Woody Allen who became embroiled in the #MeToo controversy. Meanwhile, Emma Stone was overlooked for her remarkable portrayal of Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes, likewise Jessica Chastain as Molly Bloom in Molly’s Game. The Academy also couldn’t find room for Dame Judi Dench in Victoria and Abdul, likely because the film itself was a bit stilted. That left only Emma Thompson, whose film The Children Act was pushed to this year and fell out of contention. Instead, the last two slots were filled by Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water) and Margot Robbie (I, Tonya).

THE RED QUEEN: Olivia Colman – The Favourite (director: Yorgos Lanthimos):

FYC: This biographical drama focuses on the behind-the-scenes politics between two cousins who compete to be court favorites during the reign of Queen Anne (Colman) in early 18th century England.

Most of Colman’s film accolades have been for 2011’s Tyrannosaur, which won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress and the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema – Dramatic Acting award (shared with co-star Peter Mullan). However, most of her overall acclaim has come from television. All told, Colman has earned two British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards 1) in 2013 for two separate performances in Accused (Best Supporting Actress) and Twenty Twelve (Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme), and 2) in 2014 for Broadchurch (Best Leading Actress), three additional BAFTA nominations for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Programme (Twenty Twelve in 2013, Rev. in 2015, and Fleabag in 2017), and a Primetime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie. That’s a pretty lengthy list, but with critics singing Colman’s praise in Venice and Telluride for her performance in The Favourite , her list of film accolades is about to get much longer. There has been a lot of chatter about whether she or either of her two co-stars (Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz) is the lead in this Golden Lion nominee of the Venice Film Festival, so Colman could end up in the Best Supporting Actress category but a nomination seems inevitable.

Olivia Colman in The Favorite, Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

THE FIRST-TIMER: Glenn Close – The Wife (director: Björn Runge):
FYC: In this drama, based on Meg Wolitzer’s novel of the same name, a wife questions her life choices as she accompanies her husband to Stockholm where he will receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Would you believe me if I told you that Close has been nominated for six Oscars but has never won?  It’s true. Beginning in 1983 for her supporting role in The World According to Garp, Close earned three consecutive nominations in the category for The Big Chill and The Natural. She then earned her first of three Best Actress nominations in 1988 for Fatal Attraction followed by Dangerous Liaisons in 1989 and Albert Nobbs in 2012. Close is already receiving rave reviews for her performance, including my own:
“Glenn Close packs a perfect punch in The Wife. Her low simmer heating to a boil has never been better, and she is headed straight for the Best Actress Oscar race!” that combined with her perpetual bridesmaid status should be more than enough to land her in the top five.

THE MUSICIAN: Lady Gaga – A Star is Born (director: Bradley Cooper):

FYC: Yes, that Bradley Cooper. The actor has stepped behind the camera for the first time to tackle one of Hollywood’s timeless tales of love and stardom in which a musician helps a young singer and actress (Lady Gaga) find fame as age and alcoholism cause his own career to spiral downward.

This is the fourth time the film has made it to the silver screen. The first, in 1937 starred Janet Gaynor and Frederic March, both of whom earned Oscar nominations (six Oscar nominations and two wins, including an Honorary Oscar for W. Howard Greene’s color photography, Metacritic Score: 77). The second, in 1954, starred Judy Garland and James Mason who were also nominated for their roles in this musical version of the classic (six Oscar nominations, Metacritic Score: 89). The last version, in 1976, starred Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, neither of whom were nominated for acting (three Oscar nominations and one win for Streisand for Best Music, Original Song, Metacritic Score: 58). Forgive the pun, but critics from Venice to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have been going gaga over the latest version, and Gaga’s performance in particular. She has been nominated for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song for the documentary The Hunting Ground in 2015, and has found success as an actress on television winning a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television for American Horror Story just two years ago. The film is easily one of my most anticipated of the year, and with even skeptics falling for it, it looks to be a major awards contender this season (current Metacritic Score: 87).

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born, Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

THE WIFE: Viola Davis – Widows (director: Steve McQueen):

FYC: Set in contemporary Chicago, this heist drama based upon the 1983 ITV series of the same name, follows four desperate women who pick up the slack after their criminal husbands were killed and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

Davis finally won her first Oscar in 2017 for Best Supporting Actress (even though her role was really a lead) in Fences. I suspect the category fraud was to make room for her in a crowded field. Davis was previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 2008’s Doubt and famously lost Best Actress for The Help in 2012 to Meryl Streep. She has also been a regular in the television awards circuit, receiving back-to-back nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama for her role in ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder. This same role netted her a Primetime Emmy in 2015. Most recently, Davis earned an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series nomination for her crossover role on Scandal. One could argue that Davis is overdue for a Best Actress Oscar and reviews out of TIFF for Widows suggest this may be the role to do it.

THE COMEDIENNE: Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me? (director: Marielle Heller):
FYC: Based on Lee Israel’s memoir of the same name, this drama tells the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer Israel (McCarthy) who resorts to forgery to revitalize her failing writing career.

McCarthy was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Bridesmaids in 2012, a role that also netted her BAFTA, Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations. In 2011, she won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for Mike & Molly, a role she was nominated for subsequently in 2012 and 2014—both years where she earned double nominations for Saturday Night Live as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. McCarthy also earned nominations for SNL in 2013, 2016, and 2017 for her hosting duties, and a Golden Globe nomination for Spy in 2016 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical. Here, McCarthy steps into the dramatic arena having built a successful career as a comedian, and following the film’s premiere at Telluride, many critics consider it the best performance of her career. It could very well be her ticket to a Best Actress Oscar, but could the roles of other women in the category be considered more important?

THE DETECTIVE: Nicole Kidman – Destroyer (director: Karen Kusama):

FYC: In this crime thriller, a police detective (Kidman) reconnects with people from a previous undercover assignment to make peace with her demons.

Kidman’s 35-year career is on an upswing. Last year she was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Lion and just this year she won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television for Big Little Lies. She was first nominated for Best Actress for Moulin Rouge! in 2002 and won in that category the next year for The Hours. Kidman was also nominated for Best Actress in 2011 for Rabbit Hole. Following the premiere of Destroyer at Telluride, Kidman was lauded for her performance.  Although a nomination is not out of reach, a win could be a bit difficult because the film itself is said to have some issues. Kidman is also competing against herself and may instead be nominated for her supporting role in Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased.

THE NEWCOMER: KiKi Layne – If Beale Street Could Talk (director: Barry Jenkins):

FYC: Based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, this drama follows an African-American woman (Layne) who scrambles to prove the innocence of her fiancé, who was wrongly-convicted of a crime, while carrying their first child.

Jenkins’ last film Moonlight, featuring a cast of relatively unknown actors, took the world by storm when it won Best Picture in 2017 following what is now known as the worst flub in Oscar history: when La La Land was mistakenly announced as Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Moonlight was nominated for seven other Oscars, two of which it won: Best Supporting Actor for Mahershala Ali and Best Adapted Screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and included a Best Supporting Actress nod for Naomie Harris. Given the success of the film, all eyes were on Beale Street at TIFF, and early word is that it doesn’t disappoint, announcing Layne as a star in the making. The film, Layne’s first feature film, currently boasts a Metacritic score of 86, well within the realm of a Best Picture contender. Given what Jenkins accomplished with Moonlight, which is only his second film, could lightning strike twice?

Kiki Layne in If Beale Street Could Talk, Photo Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures/YouTube

THE WHITE QUEEN: Saoirse Ronan – Mary Queen of Scots (director: Josie Rourke):

FYC: This epic historical drama, based on John Guy’s biography My Heart Is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots, chronicles the 1569 conflict between Mary Stuart (Ronan) and her cousin Elizabeth I, who had Stuart imprisoned and facing execution for plotting to overthrow the Queen of England.

Ronan first earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for 2007’s Atonement, and she has since been nominated for Best Actress twice: last year for Lady Bird and in 2016 for Brooklyn. Those same roles earned her BAFTA nominations as did her role in The Lovely Bones in 2010. The latter, along with Lady Bird, earned her SAG nominations, and she has been nominated in three different categories: Best Young Actress (Atonement, The Lovely Bones, which she won for, and Hannah); Best Actress: (The Lovely Bones, Brooklyn, and Lady Bird); and Best Actress in a Comedy: (Lady Bird).

Unlike the other films discussed here, this one has yet to screen so we don’t really have much to go on outside of Ronan’s stature in the Oscar field. But she looks very strong in the trailer and appears to showcase a lot of range. Ronan joins Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain as an actress who is likely to win at least one Oscar for her work—she just needs the right role at the right time. Could this be it?

The leading roles discussed here are a snapshot of safe bets as the Oscar race begins. There are many others to consider, including Claire Foy in Damien Chazelle’s space biopic First Man based on James R. Hansen’s book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, which examines the life of Neil Armstrong leading up to the Apollo 11 mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon in 1969. Foy has received raves out of Venice and Telluride for her performance and with the film a likely Best Picture contender, she should figure prominently this season. It will be interesting to see if Toni Collette can hold on for a nomination following the premiere of Hereditary at the Sundance Film Festival back in January. The last time an actress was nominated for a horror film was in 2010 when Natalie Portman won for Black Swan—a film that was originally seen as not “Academy friendly”. There’s also a shot for Felicity Jones who plays Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in On the Basis of Sex, Carey Mulligan in Wildlife, Mary Elizabeth Winstead in All About Nina, and the aforementioned Thompson for The Children Act. Oh, and if it has an Oscar-qualifying run, Taraji P. Henson in The Best of Enemies.

Stay tuned in November when I examine the Best Actor race and the leading men that drive it.

 

For Your Consideration

 

Ones to Watch, Vol. 3 Edition

Jim Keller

As I have said in the past, the Best Supporting Actor and Actress races of the Academy Awards are extremely unpredictable. Often a film’s narrative can decide who from the supporting races makes it in. Last year was a bit different, as you can see from the outcomes below, but look no further than Rachel McAdams’s nomination for Spotlight and you can see that there are plenty of other forces at work besides one’s actual performance. (For those of you who haven’t seen Spotlight, McAdams does next to nothing on screen). This is why I use a different format when discussing the supporting than with the leading races. Instead of laying out each actor’s accomplishments and whether I would bet on them for a nomination, I have broken down the various circumstances these actors find themselves in as a result of the film’s narrative, and how that may influence Oscar voters.

Various critics groups, including the National Board of Review (NBR), the New York Film Critics Circle (NYFCC), and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA) have announced their respective winners and The Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), Hollywood Foreign Press Association (Golden Globes), and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) have announced their respective nominees. These announcements and the events associated with them help to form a consensus of Oscar nominees and make the acting categories more clear as we approach nominations on January 23rd. In effect, they signal the start of the Oscar race’s second leg.

 

~THE GENTS~

Last Year’s Best Supporting Actor Results:

Mahershala Ali — Moonlight: Ali was not only nominated, but he took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and deservedly so.

Dev Patel — Lion: He was nominated in this category, though his was a leading role (category fraud).

Lucas HedgesManchester by the Sea: Hedges beat the odds of being a young newcomer who was nominated.

Michael Shannon — Nocturnal Animals: My hunch that Shannon would end up being the only nomination for the film in the major categories was correct. In fact, it was the only Oscar nomination the film received in any category, and he bumped co-star and Golden Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson out.

Jeff Bridges — Hell or High Water: As I predicted, Bridges easily took one of the five slots and earned his fourth nomination in this category.

The only real snub was Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins) who gave his best performance to date. Clearly, by this time last year, it was easy to determine which supporting roles would go on to be nominated by the Academy.

Before we dive into this year’s list of contenders, let me touch upon some of the phenomena we often see in the supporting races:

Two for one: A film can often have multiple supporting nominees. The precedent was set in both supporting categories back in 1939 when Hattie McDaniel competed against Olivia de Havilland for Gone with the Wind, and Harry Carey and Claud Rains were nominated for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Since then, we have seen this play out 29 times in Best Supporting Actress and only 16 times in Best Supporting Actor in the 89 years of the Academy Awards. This last occurred in Supporting Actor for 1991’s Bugsy when Harvey Keitel and Ben Kingsley were nominated and in Supporting Actress for 2011’s The Help, which yielded a win for Octavia Spencer and a nomination for Jessica Chastain. Recently, many Oscar watchers have come to believe that a double nomination for a film would cancel both actors out, which could explain why we haven’t seen it in six years.

Ride Along: A Best Picture nomination can often yield supporting nominations for the film’s actors, e.g., Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) and Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea).

Category fraud: In years where there are too many high-quality performances to choose from, Academy voters often fill lead performance slots with supporting roles and vice versa. This year, keep your eye on Steve Carell in Battle of the Sexes and Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name for the men. Similarly, Brooklynn Prince in The Florida Project for the ladies.

Eyes on the newcomer: Oscar voters will often rally around a newcomer and anoint them the prom king/queen, e.g., Mahershala Ali in Moonlight).

Here is a guide to the precursor awards and nominations standings: BFCA (*), LAFCA (+), NBR (~), NYFCC (^), Golden Globe (#), and SAG ($). The symbols appear after the contender’s name.

Zeitgeist

Mark Rylance (Dunkirk), Ben Mendelsohn (Darkest Hour)*:

In the year following the year that saw the #OscarsSoWhite curse beat back with a broom, we’re all hoping that the Academy will continue to stem the tide of controversy. But we do so perhaps with more on the line than the country is accustomed to. In any given year, the Academy Awards, to some degree, take the temperature of what is going on in the world. Last year’s the Best Picture lineup included Hell or High Water, at once a crime thriller and a comment on the plight of the disenfranchised American. This year there are three films in play for Best Picture that comment on the Trump regime, including two films that take place during WWII. The first is Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s gorgeous depiction of the evacuation of allied soldiers who were surrounded by the German Army. The film, which capitalizes on Winston Churchill’s famous “We shall fight on the beaches”, illustrates the very air, land, and sea combat that he portended in his speech, but more importantly shines a light on what we can achieve when we work together. Enter Mr. Dawson (Rylance), a private boat captain among the 850 Little Ships of Dunkirk that ferried more than 338,000 soldiers to safety as part of Operation Dynamo. With a 94 on Metacritic Dunkirk is one of the year’s best reviewed films, and it has wracked-up eight BFCA nominations. Rylance’s subtle performance skillfully represents the courage and heart of the seafaring men. Where Dunkirk focuses on a singular WWII event, Darkest Hour concerns the whole enchilada. The film follows the newly appointed Churchill (Gary Oldman delivering a towering performance) while Hitler closes in on Britain, forcing Churchill to decide whether to negotiate or retaliate. Perhaps best known to American audiences for his work in Netflix’s Bloodline, Australian actor Mendelsohn plays the reigning monarch of the time, King George VI who was known for his stutter. His role in the Netflix series was well received by the Primetime Emmy Awards and the Golden Globes. Given the luck he has had in television, it will be interesting to see if the film community welcomes him. Despite both men missing out on precursor awards and nominations, their respective films stand firmly in the Best Picture race, which increases their chances for a nomination.

Mark Rylance (left) in Dunkirk.

Teachers

Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project)~ ^ + * # $, Armie Hammer* #, and Michael Stuhlbarg* (Call Me by Your Name): The second category of contenders dovetails nicely with the first because in dark times, we look to true leaders to lead us into the light. Dafoe, Hammer, and Stuhlbarg’s characters strive to lead by example—a characteristic that also shines through in Rylance’s character, I might add. Because many of the tenants living in the motel inhabited by mischievous Moonee (Prince, more on her below) and her young friends are too wrapped up in themselves to do any real parenting, Dafoe’s caretaker Bobby functions as everyone’s parent. And what is a parent, if not a teacher?  The film premiered in the Director’s Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival this year and went on to play at the Toronto and New York film festivals (TIFF and NYFF) where Dafoe earned frontrunner status. Dafoe has two Best Supporting Oscar nominations under his belt for Platoon (1989) and The Shadow of the Vampire (2001). Stuhlbarg plays the father of young Elio (a riveting performance from relative newcomer, 21-year-old Timothée Chalamet) who falls in love with Oliver (Hammer who has never been better) thus the two men teach the teenage boy about two distinct kinds of love. Stuhlbarg was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical in 2010 for A Serious Man. He also appears in The Shape of Water this year thereby clocking in two memorable performances. In Call Me by Your Name, his performance is subtle but powerful, and the onus falls on him to deliver one of the film’s most poignant scenes. Hammer, on the other hand, has struggled to gain ground following his debut in The Social Network back in 2010. Here, he imbues the film with such a warmth and vitality that it proves he has more to offer than a pretty face. Between the two men, Hammer has the edge with his Golden Globe nomination, but Dafoe has maintained his frontrunner status. In fact, as the only actor in the race to be selected by every precursor awards group, a win by anyone else would be a shock.

 Willem Dafoe (left) and Brooklyn Prince (right) in The Florida Project.

Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name.

Villains

Sam Rockwell* # $ and Woody Harrelson$ (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water):

Where there is darkness, there are villains. In the last five years alone 7 out of 25 Best Supporting Actor nominees were villains. This may not sound like a lot, but when you factor in that 2 out of the 5 winners were villains, Christoph Waltz Django Unchained (2012) and J.K. Simmons Whiplash (2014), it can’t be ignored. Rockwell’s small town deputy is a racist momma’s boy who takes advantage of his station. It’s clear that much of what is disagreeable about him was homegrown, and so it is surprising to see his character go through such a transformation by the end of the film. The closest Rockwell has come to Oscar is a pair of BFCA nominations in 2011 and 2014. The first was for Best Supporting Actor for Conviction and the second for Best Actor in a Comedy for The Way Way Back. Harrelson, on the other hand, is the sheriff of the town whom is on the receiving end of the ire of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand in top form) following his department’s failure to catch those who raped and murdered her teenage daughter. I will not give anything away, but with limited screen time, he makes quite the impression. Harrelson has two Oscar nominations under his belt: Best Actor in 1997 for The People vs. Larry Flynt and Best Supporting Actor in 2010 for The Messenger. That brings us to Shannon’s performance in The Shape of Water, which takes place in the Cold War era and is the third film that fits the zeitgeist of this year. On display in his Richard Strickland is a hawkish brute whom has no regard for human beings, going so far as to relieve himself in front of the two cleaning women who ultimately work against him (Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer who both deliver in spades) and to cover his wife’s mouth during “love” making. He is a vile example of a man who in today’s society would be on the receiving end of a fair share of #metoo accusations. The Academy has singled out Shannon twice with nominations for films where other standout performances were overlooked: in 2009 for Revolutionary Road, and this year in Nocturnal Animals. Given this pattern, and the fact that The Shape of Water is a major Oscar contender, it’s tempting to want to pencil him in. Rockwell delivers what is probably his best work to date in this TIFF audience award winner. It’s not likely that he will miss the cut for an Oscar nomination, but if enough voters go for Woody Harrelson’s performance, the two could cancel one another out. Generally, Oscar loves a good villain, but maybe not this year when we have too many real villains in our midst.

Other considerations: All eight men I discussed here are white. If the Academy remains vigilant about #OscarsSoWhite they could mix it up with Idris Elba in Molly’s Game, newcomer Algee Smith in Detroit, Jason Mitchell in Mudbound, or Laurence Fishburne in Last Flag Flying. I can’t speak on the latter’s performance, but I can say that Smith’s, coming from my favorite film of the year, which has been woefully overlooked, is probably the most resonant. Elba holds his own opposite Jessica Chastain, who always delivers top-notch performances, and Mitchell is the heart and soul of Mudbound. Any of these men are more than worthy of a nomination, but haven’t been appearing in the precursor awards conversation. Sadly, even more white men have: Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Steve Carrell (Battle of the Sexes), and Patrick Stewart (Logan).

 

~THE LADIES~

Last Year’s Best Supporting Actress Race Results:

Viola Davis – Fences: She was nominated and won for her powerhouse performance as was predicted.

– Nicole KidmanLion: Kidman’s banner year began with this nomination and continues today with her roles in television (Big Little Lies and Top of the Lake: China Girl) and film (The Killing of a Sacred Deer).

Michelle WilliamsManchester by the Sea: She was nominated despite grumblings from some critics who claimed she didn’t have enough screen time.

Naomie Harris Moonlight: Nominated

Janelle Monáe Hidden Figures: She was not nominated despite a BFCA nomination.
– Greta Gerwig 20th Century Women: She also was not nominated despite her BFCA nomination.

Last year’s fifth nominee was Golden Globe and SAG nominee Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, who replaced Monáe, thereby earning her second Best Supporting Actress nomination.

By my discussing six nominees last year, you can see that on the ladies’ side, picking the eventual Oscar nominees was not so cut and dry—mainly because of the BFCA’s inclusion of Monáe and Gerwig in their list of six. Both actresses were ignored by the other awards bodies. Still, it was easy enough to determine almost all of the eventual Best Supporting Actress nominees by this time last year.

Mother!

Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird)+ ~ * # $, Mary J. Blige (Mudbound)* # $, and Allison Janney (I, Tonya)* # $:

TIME just named their person of the year: The Silence Breakers. This is big news in a year following one that saw an accused sex offender take the presidency. Women have become the new cause to champion, and rightfully so. For far too long our culture has enabled sexual abuse against women and children by turning the other way, or providing hush money—no more. The Oscar for Best Picture went to Spotlight in 2016. The film depicted the true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive child molestation scandal and cover-up within the Catholic Church. One can only guess what the film that discusses details of Harvey Weinstein’s or any other of the countless sex offenders’ actions that have been exposed this year will be like. But I hope our society learns from this and moves forward with the same vigilance that we are now witnessing, and continues to champion women and those who have been victimized by these heinous acts. Through all of this, my thoughts have turned to the mothers of these women and children. How helpless they must feel bringing children into this world where they cannot protect them. No once captures that sentiment more perfectly than Metcalf (Lady Bird) who struggles to maintain a positive relationship with her teenage daughter (Saoirse Ronan holding her own) as she prepares to leave the nest for college. Metcalf, perhaps best known as the titular character’s sister Jackie on Roseanne, earned multiple Primetime Emmy Awards nominations and wins for the show, and was also nominated for guest actress work in 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996), Monk (2006), Desperate Housewives (2007), and triple nominations last year for Getting On, Horace and Pete, and The Big Bang Theory. Outside of television, she has had a lot of success on the stage, and most recently won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for A Doll’s House, Part 2.  Dee Rees’ Mudbound is a gorgeous epic and at the center is Blige’s mother who, like Metcalf’s character, cannot protect her child (Jason Mitchell) from the evils that befall him. Blige is best known as a musician and performer, but here she strips down to the bare essentials, so much so that one hardly recognizes her, allowing her to fade into the role like a chameleon. Although her acting career is just heating up, Blige has been nominated for two Golden Globes for Best Original Song – Motion Picture: The Help in 2012 and again this year for Mudbound. Historically, the Academy runs cool on Netflix-produced films (see Beasts of No Nation last year, which failed to earn a single nomination). But something tells me that Blige will make it in the top five, even if it is just to stave off the curse of #OscarsSoWhite. Where it’s clear that Metcalf and Blige’s mothers love their children, Janney’s portrayal of the mother of one-time Olympic hopeful Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie giving the year’s best performance) in I, Tonya paints a picture of constant physical and mental abuse. Janney earned four back-to-back Primetime Emmy Awards nominations for her work in The West Wing. She for the same role in 2000-2002, was nominated for lead the following year, won the next and earned one final lead nomination for it in 2006. In 2014, she won two Primetime Emmys for Mom and Masters of Sex; she also was nominated for a Golden Globe for the former and nominated again for both the following year. In 2017, she was nominated again for Mom. Like Metcalf, Janney has also enjoyed success on the stage, having been nominated for Best Actress in a Play in 1998 for A View from the Bridge, and Best Actress in a Musical in 2009 for 9 to 5. Metcalf appears to have the momentum, and hers is my favorite of those in supporting this year. But you certainly can’t count out Janney, and the possibility exists that the two veterans of stage and screen could cancel one another out, allowing Blige, or someone else to sneak in.

Laurie Metcalf in Lady Bird.

Mary J. Blige in Mudbound.

Margot Robbie in I, Tonya.

Comfortable Favorites

Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)* # and Holly Hunter (The Big Sick)* $: Oscar often retreats to what is comfortable, and what better way to do that than to nominate those whom have won or been nominated? In the role of the best friend to love struck mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins knocking it out of the park), Spencer screen time, making her very memorable. As I mentioned earlier, she won for The Help and was nominated for Hidden Figures, but it’s worth mentioning that both films were sprawling ensembles, and though not everyone gets nominated from an ensemble, she did. That is a testament to how strong her chances of a nomination are, though a win is unlikely. Hunter was first nominated for Best Actress back in 1988 for Broadcast News, she earned double nominations in 1994 for The Piano (lead) and The Firm (supporting), and was last nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 2004 for Thirteen. There has been a groundswell of support for The Big Sick, which chronicles the true story of actor/comedian Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his wife, Emily Gordon, who battled cancer. The screenplay was written by the couple and Hunter plays Gordon’s mother who struggles to deal with her daughter’s illness. The film is struggling to hold on for a Best Picture nomination, but looks strong for screenplay, and with enough support Hunter could also get in.

Newcomers

Brooklyn Prince (The Florida Project)*: The performance from the seven-year-old actress is really a lead, but Academy members could slip her in here. She was recognized by the BFCA in the Best Young Actor/Actress category. Although it would be well-deserved, it is an unlikely scenario.

Hong Chau (Downsizing)*  # $: The Thai actress, perhaps best known for her small television roles in Big Little Lies and Treme, has the most heat for this social satire that asks if our lives would be better if we were able to shrink ourselves. Despite the strong buzz for the performance, there is a feeling that the Vietnamese woman that Chau portrays is more of a caricature. But it has been eleven years since an Asian actress (Rinko Kikuchi for Babel) has been recognized by the Academy (unless you count Hailee Steinfeld who is one-eighth Filipino and was nominated for True Grit in 2010), and the optics of this possible nomination should not be ignored.

Hong Chau (left) in Downsizing.

For the ladies, other possibilities include Kristin Scott Thomas for Darkest Hour as Clementine Churchill, and Melissa Leo for Novitiate as a stern Mother Superior, and Rosamund Pike as yet another kind of mother in Hostiles. There is also the opportunity to recognize Tiffany Haddish for her standout comedic performance in Girls Trip.

 

Any Oscar race is a wild ride; what seems like a sure thing can be gone tomorrow. We’re living in uncertain times where men (especially) are being taken down by their actions. Nothing is set in stone, and no one is safe.

 

For Your Consideration

 

Ones to Watch, Vol. 2 Edition

Jim Keller

With the summer film festivals, namely Venice (August 30 – September 9), Telluride (September 1-4), and Toronto (September 7-17) behind us, it’s time for the second of a three-part series, which examines the roles that are likely to feature in the Best Actor race. In recent years, the eventual Best Picture winner has premiered at Telluride, and so begins the Oscar race. By this time last year, Venice had given us the performances of Ryan Gosling (La La Land) and Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), and those of Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) and Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) had hailed from the Sundance Film Festival. The only performance from an eventual nominee that we hadn’t seen was that of Denzel Washington (Fences).

Similar to last year, we have little to go on because most of the films that have been screened so far have centered on a female, not a male, lead. The last time the Academy awarded Best Picture to a film with a female lead was Million Dollar Baby back in 2006—not the greatest stat for Battle of the Sexes and Lady Bird to be up against following their praiseworthy Telluride premieres, but I digress. Unlike 2016, this year appears to already have a frontrunner who may prove unstoppable.

Before we delve into this year, let’s put a cap on the last one. Of the seven roles that were discussed here, two went on to secure Best Actor nominations: Washington and Affleck, and the race came down to those two men. We had Washington—a veteran looking for his third win, and Affleck—the scrappy guy from Boston hoping to net his first. Even though Washington delivered hands down the best performance of the year, Affleck was able to outrun his past (more on this shortly) to take the prize.

Nate Parker (The Birth of a Nation) topped the snub list, which included Joel Edgerton (Loving), when his issues with the law were exhumed as I described last year. At that time, I portended that if he didn’t get nominated, racism was to blame. It would appear that I was right because later on in the Oscar season it was revealed that Affleck too had some “past indiscretions,” to put lightly. However, Affleck was legally barred from speaking about his alleged reprehensible behavior and so, walked away from the ordeal squeaky clean, and likely as dirty as sin on the inside.

As for the others discussed here, Ang Lee’s big gamble, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which was shot at 120 frames per second, flopped, leaving the film’s star Joe Alwyn out in the cold. Dev Patel (Lion) was recognized in the Best Supporting Actor category, and Hugh Grant (Florence Foster Jenkins) was campaigned in supporting, but failed to land a nomination.

 

THE PEACEMAKER: Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour (director: Joe Wright)

FYC: This British war drama follows new Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Oldman) during the early days of WWII when Hitler closed in on Britain, forcing Churchill to decide whether to negotiate or fight back. The film bowed at Telluride, earning rapturous reviews. Oldman was nominated for Best Actor in 2012 for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. His performance here has earned him frontrunner status, and given that it comes from a film that is in pole position for Best Picture, with director and actor accolades, he may be unstoppable.

 

THE DESIGNER: Daniel Day-Lewis – (Untitled) (director: Paul Thomas Anderson):

 FYC: Not much is known about this American drama set in the fashion world of 1950s London, where a dressmaker (Day-Lewis) is commissioned to design for members of high society and the royal family. But what is known is that the dressmaker is Charles James, and the film is reportedly the last of Day-Lewis who will retire following a career that has spanned four decades. Day-Lewis won three Best Actor Oscars beginning with My Left Foot in 1990, followed by There Will Be Blood in 2008, and most recently Lincoln in 2012. He is widely considered one of the best actors of our time, and all eyes will be on Day-Lewis to see if he can snatch the Oscar away from Oldman.

 

THE FIGHTER: Jake Gyllenhaal – Stronger (director: David Gordon Green):

FYC: This biographical drama, based on the memoir of the same name by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter, depicts the inspiring true story of Bauman who lost his legs in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The film, currently in theatres, screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) where it won over critics who praised Gyllenhaal’s performance. The actor has one Best Supporting Actor nomination under his belt for Brokeback Mountain in 2006. But now that Leonardo DiCaprio has finally been awarded his first Best Actor Oscar, it seems that Gyllenhaal has taken up the mantel of the younger heartthrob destined to be overlooked for several years by the Academy. Recently, he delivered consistent performances that have earned him some awards heat such as last year’s Nocturnal Animals, and 2014’s Nightcrawler, but how many more of these will he have to deliver of equal caliber before the Academy rewards him?

 

THE RECORD HOLDER: Denzel Washington – Roman Israel, Esq. (director: Dan Gilroy):

FYC: In this legal drama, Washington stars as the titular character: a driven, idealistic, liberal defense attorney who discovers some unsettling things about his law firm and ends up in a crisis that leads to an extreme action. Because I discussed the actor’s history with the Academy in last year’s column, I will refrain from expanding on it here, except to say that last year Washington, the record holder for the most nominations for an African-American actor, should’ve won his third Best Actor trophy. Buzz on the film following its premiere at TIFF is lukewarm, if warm at all, but Washington could get in through an I.O.U. from the Academy.

 

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC: Christian Bale – Hostiles (director: Scott Cooper):

FYC: This period war drama, based on an original story by Donald E. Stewart, follows an English army captain who escorts a dying Cheyenne war chief and his family back to his tribal lands in 1892. The film earned rave reviews at TIFF and was subsequently scooped up for distribution this year. Somehow, I have yet to discuss Bale’s award history in this column, though he has been mentioned regularly. Unlike most actors, Bale won the first time he was nominated for his supporting role in The Fighter in 2011. He has since been nominated for Best Actor in 2014 for American Hustle and Best Supporting Actor last year for The Big Short. Because much of the acclaim of Hostiles pinpoints Bale’s performance, he stands a good chance of being nominated.

 

THE PERFORMER: Hugh Jackman – The Greatest Showman (director: Michael Gracey):

FYC: In this biographical musical drama Jackman portrays P.T. Barnum, a man who rose from nothing and started the spectacle that became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jackman was nominated for Best Actor in 2013 for Les Misérables, but hasn’t been featured in an Oscar-baity film since. Musicals can be a hard sell, but if anyone can do it, it’s Jackman who won a Tony award for his performance in The Boy from Oz in 2004.

 

THE ADOLESCENT: Timothée Chalamet – Call Me by Your Name (director: Luca Guadagnino):

FYC: This coming-of-age drama, based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman and written by James Ivory (more on this below), depicts the passionate relationship that develops between a young man named Elio and an academic (Armie Hammer) who has come to stay at his parents’ Italian villa in the 1980s. Through one unforgettable summer the two bond over their sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and love for life and all it has to offer. The film premiered at Sundance where it received universal acclaim, particularly for Chalamet, Hammer, and Michael Stuhlbarg (who plays Elio’s father), as well as for direction and writing. It is important to note that Ivory directed and was nominated for A Room with a View, Howards End and The Remains of the Day. Furthermore, each of those films earned a minimum of eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. For these reasons it is a formidable candidate for a Best Picture nomination and therefore should have a strong presence in the Oscar race. However, a nomination for the 21-year-old newcomer Chalamet, perhaps best known for his eight-episode stint on TV’s Homeland is not yet a slam-dunk (though, having seen the film, he should be)—the last time an actor was nominated for Best Actor while in their early twenties was in the 1920s.

There are several other actors with the pedigree to earn a nomination this year. We don’t know if Tom Hanks’ role in Steven Spielberg’s greatly anticipated The Papers will be a supporting or a leading role, or if the Academy will decide to bestow a heap of good will onto Andrew Garfield who stars in Breathe. Other performances from leading men this year that could ignite include Chadwick Boseman for Marshall, Bryan Cranston for Last Flag Flying, and James Franco for The Disaster Artist. What we do know is that the critic groups will weigh in, and then it’s all over but the shouting. Until soon, Oscar watchers!