2018’s Oscar Nominations Got Weird, Surprising, And Mostly Awesome
We break down this year's weird, surprising, and mostly awesome Oscar nominations and how well they reflect the great films of 2017.
Tiffany Haddish and Andy Serkis got up very early on Tuesday to announce the nominations for the 90th Academy Awards, unleashing a full month of bickering, commenting, and trying to predict the industry’s biggest prizes. The Oscars have grown into quite the media typhoon lately, so landing these nominations really does translate into more people seeing the selected films. The shorts get theatrical releases, the features get additional showings, but still no one learns how to pronounce Saoirse Ronan’s name.
2017 brought the Academy a ton of great options, and they capitalized on recent promises that diversifying their membership would diversify the nominees. We have our first female cinematographer nominee in Mudbound’s Rachel Morrison, and categories usually dominated by (or about) straight white men were shaken up. Hopefully that means even more doors will open up, and the wider talent pool being drawn from can only mean better movies going forward.
With an inordinate amount of attention and money on the line, let’s run through who landed the major Oscar nominations and how well they reflect the great films of 2017.
nominees: Call Me by Your Name; Darkest Hour; Dunkirk; Get Out; Lady Bird; Phantom Thread; The Post; The Shape of Water; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
With up to ten slots available, the Academy found nine nominees that will satisfy most film fans. Dunkirk, Phantom Thread, The Post, and The Shape of Water bring exactly the kind of prestige and pedigree the Academy looks for, and all happen to be widely admired. They form a solid base for what is actually a pretty unusual group of nominees, with contentious and boundary-pushing material appearing in several.
The inclusion of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will ruffle the most feathers, as many have found Martin McDonagh’s film an ill-handled provocation (our Shawn Glinis outlined many of the problems here). But the film also has its ardent fans, and its punchy style is the exact opposite of the staid nominees we’re used to seeing in the top category.
But the biggest change of pace is the inclusion of Jordan Peele’s horror hit Get Out, released early in 2017 and maintaining such a revered reputation that it broke through the Academy’s genre bias. Many people will be rooting for the little horror film that could along with later beloved releases Call Me by Your Name and Lady Bird, both of which are unusual in their own right.
Before the envelope snafu and Moonlight’s surprise win, a film about LGBTQ characters was considered to have a near impossible road to the biggest award, but Call Me by Your Name has seemed like a shoo-in for a nomination throughout the year. It stayed on course and made the cut, making it a rare inclusion for a gay love story.
And then there’s the women, with Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird acting as the focal point for bringing serious consideration to female filmmakers and stories about women in general. It’s worth noting, though, that The Shape of Water and Three Billboards also center on female characters while The Post goes for a true balance between its male and female leads.
Darkest Hour is the only safe and forgettable nominee in the bunch, a remarkably low percentage in comparison to past years. Sure, many would’ve liked to see Blade Runner 2049, The Florida Project, or Wonder Woman included, but it would be tough to remove most of these nominees.
nominees: Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), Jordan Peele (Get Out), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread), Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water)
Generally considered a whittled down version of the Best Picture category, Best Director usually indicates which films are in serious contention. Surprisingly, Paul Thomas Anderson is the only one who’s been nominated in this category before, as old favorites Christopher Nolan and Guillermo del Toro are usually pushed to the wayside for making too commercial or too out there films. All three stalwarts of modern cinema put out movies that showcase what they do best this year, but they’re in a serious race with the two green directors.
Yes, Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig both landed Oscar nominations for their stellar debuts, and each are rare inclusions in a category notorious for being all about white dudes. They are the fifth black and the fifth female director nominees, respectively, of all time. Let those numbers sink in a bit.
It’s another instance where it’s hard to be disappointed with any of the nominees’ work, and it’s refreshingly not just a list of well-known auteurs. Each person handled a variety of obstacles and guided their films to the top echelons of action, fantasy, horror, comedy, and drama.
nominees: Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name), Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread), Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.)
The strong showings by Phantom Thread and Get Out seemed to propel their leads to Best Actor nominations, even though both men needed a boost for entirely different reasons.
Daniel Day-Lewis is an institution to himself, and surprisingly, his final role as an obstinate dressmaker wasn’t gaining awards traction. The Oscars jumped on the Phantom Thread bandwagon like no other group has, though, so Day-Lewis took a well-deserved slot.
Daniel Kaluuya is just emerging on the international stage, having worked steadily for years in television, but his turn as a beguiled boyfriend meeting the family in Get Out was too measured to be ignored. The film rides on his shoulders (or his eyes, as many people have pointed out), and he led audiences down the rabbit hole masterfully.
But the two Daniels are mostly afterthoughts, because it seems already settled that this is Gary Oldman’s year. It’ll be a career win, which is some consolation considering The Darkest Hour leans heavily on caricature and almost certainly doesn’t contain the best male lead performance of the year. For my money, that’s Timothée Chalamet, whose credits sequence breakdown in Call Me by Your Name was pretty undeniable. He’s the third youngest Best Actor nominee ever, in case you were wondering, and he seems to be the only one able to give Oldman a run for his money.
Denzel Washington was nominated for his name alone. Moving on.
nominees: Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Meryl Streep (The Post)
A sad by-product of this male dominated industry is that the Best Actress category can sometimes seem slight. There’s often only a handful of good roles for women in a given year, which made 2018’s bounty of choices all the more refreshing.
The nominees are all familiar faces, particularly the groan-inducing 21st nomination of Meryl Streep. We get it, Meryl’s amazing, but giving her a nomination is literally a running joke. She’s fine in The Post, but I’d have preferred to see Rebecca Hall (Professor Marston and the Wonder Women), Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread), or Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth) take that slot.
On the flip side, it’s wonderful to see Margot Robbie’s fight against being typecast as a pretty face pay off, because she’s great in I, Tonya and has been quietly impressive in several projects.
Saoirse Ronan, Sally Hawkins, and Frances McDormand were your shoe-in nominees, all seasoned vets killing roles that were right in their wheelhouses. McDormand’s flashy and challenging character makes her the one to beat, but I want to take a moment to stew on Ronan. She’s only 23, this is her third Oscar nomination, and she’s got many more incredible performances under her belt. We are truly witnessing a once in a generation talent with her, and her constant nominations could become a Streep-esque joke.
Best Actress In A Supporting Role
nominees: Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread), Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water)
This category was supposed to be a showdown of the moms, with Allison Janney’s monstrous turn taking on the subtly heartwarming Laurie Metcalf. However, all early indicators are going Janney’s way, and rewarding the scene-stealing delight of a good villain is a trend in the supporting categories. Janney’s a lot of fun to watch in I, Tonya, but come on, Metcalf’s arc is as complex as some of the lead actresses. Unfortunately, she’ll probably have to settle for winning moms everywhere an extra phone call after their kids saw Lady Bird.
Mary J. Blige marks the biggest nomination for Netflix’s Mudbound, and she actually landed a second Oscar nomination for her song Mighty River. Unfortunately, she and Octavia Spencer are being rewarded for underwritten roles, and while they did the best they could with them, neither aren’t particularly noteworthy. Lesley Manville seems to be another person riding the Phantom Thread bandwagon, and in a year where their weren’t enough meaty supporting actress roles, these are all fine nominees.
Best Actor In A Supporting Role
nominees: Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project), Woody Harrelson (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Richard Jenkins (The Shape of Water), Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World), Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
We’ve got the dreaded double nominee situation for Three Billboards, with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell threatening to split votes. Rockwell’s been cleaning up in this category, but suddenly it doesn’t seem like a lock. I can’t say I blame the voters for giving both men Oscar nominations, as each pull off despicably empathetic characters with relative ease (yeah, I’m a defender of Three Billboards). But who could slip past Rockwell at this point?
Willem Dafoe represents the lone nomination for The Florida Project, a critical darling that apparently didn’t catch on with Oscar voters. There’s probably enough people who enjoyed his warm turn to push him past Rockwell, but honestly, both are outstanding performances.
Richard Jenkins’ soothing narration pushed him past his Shape of Water co-stars Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg (and Stuhlbarg again in Call Me by Your Name). That Christopher Plummer also beat out both of them for his last-minute turn in All the Money in the World (where he channeled his Scrooge from The Man Who Invented Christmas) will rile some people up, especially since Armie Hammer’s appropriately magnetic performance in Call Me by Your Name is also absent.
What can I say, it’s a stacked category, and in this case, there were some missteps with the nominees. Luckily, those left out are all in films nominated elsewhere.
nominees: Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Faces Places, Icarus, Last Men in Aleppo, Strong Island
You all ready to tear down the weakest batch of nominees? That’s right, the feature documentary category was a major disappointment to many, particularly for anyone agreeing with the widespread appreciation for Jane.
What did happen to Jane? It had a love story, feminism, and irascible chimps, all in a tight 90 minute package! And with a nomination-worthy score to boot! Its absence is jaw-dropping, but what’s more upsetting is the lackluster group of nominees that took its place.
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail was a steady if uninspired outing from the legendary Steve James, Icarus needed to completely excise its initial premise à la Capturing the Friedmans, and Strong Island lacked a distinctive hook to stand out among the true crime deluge. All pale in comparison to Jane and the extraordinarily researched/edited LA 92 or the delightful School Life.
Last Men in Aleppo proved to be an overly punishing experience with a telegraphed ending, which I would gladly switch out with the more restrained but still viscerally upsetting City of Ghosts. And Faces Places? We all love Agnès Varda, but frankly, this one went straight past charming and right into twee territory for me.
I consider myself a documentary fan, and this category is the only major problem I had with this year’s nominees.
Foreign Language Film
nominees: A Fantastic Woman, The Insult, Loveless, On Body and Soul, The Square
For the foreign language category, you have the usual mix of festival winners and familiar directors, each promising to be a great time at the movies once they release worldwide.
There’s two of the big breakouts from the Berlin International Film Festival here, Golden Bear winner On Body and Soul and Silver Bear (Best Screenplay) winner A Fantastic Woman. Loveless comes from director Andrey Zvyagintsev, who previous film, Leviathan, was nominated in the same category, while The Square is Ruben Östlund’s follow up to the acclaimed Force Majeure.
The Insult is the only major surprise, having had a lackluster festival rollout. It does, however, mark the first nomination for Lebanon, which they would probably celebrate if the film wasn’t in danger of not being released there due to controversy surrounding director Ziad Doueiri’s previous film.
With a record 92 films submitted this year, the category already had ‘snubs’ pairing down to the shortlist of 9 films. Angelina Jolie’s First They Killed My Father was the highest profile, though not the most egregious in my opinion, which I would reserve for France’s BPM. With such a large pool to pull from, this is often quietly the strongest category in the bunch, but we rarely know just how strong it is until all the films become available in the upcoming year. Personally, I always consider anything nominated or even shortlisted worth investigating.
Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
nominees: James Ivory (Call Me by Your Name); Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber (The Disaster Artist); Scott Frank, James Mangold, & Michael Green (Logan); Aaron Sorkin (Molly’s Game); Virgil Williams & Dee Rees (Mudbound)
Things tend to get weird in the screenplay categories, so if you’re looking for oddball, genre, or otherwise overlooked films, this is where to turn. Only Call Me by Your Name is a Best Picture nominee here, and most of these are the only Oscar nominations for their films.
Logan, being my personal favorite film of 2017, made me pretty ecstatic, because throwing a screenplay nomination instead of some technical awards to a blockbuster seems like a greater sign of respect. The same goes for the Tommy Wiseau inspired comedy The Disaster Artist and Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut, Molly’s Game. The latter was too uneven to be a contender in the top categories, but Sorkin far from embarrassed himself. And the former, well, a fine comedy is still a comedy to the Academy.
Dee Rees’s Mudbound didn’t break through for Best Picture or Director, but its inclusion here still makes history. Rees is now the first black female to be nominated in this category (again, let that really sink in). She and Virgil Williams took on a sprawling book and hammered out a good story, so the recognition was well earned.
Writing (Original Screenplay)
nominees: Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick); Jordan Peele (Get Out); Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird); Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water); Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
A bunch of familiar faces return in the Original Screenplay category, with four writer/directors responsible for Best Picture nominees popping up again here. But do you know what that means? The Oscars are rewarding a lot of original material this time around, so lets just bask in all this deliciously fresh content.
The only surprising inclusion here is Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani for their romantic comedy The Big Sick, which was a steady, crowd-pleasing presence throughout the middle of the year. It’s a straightforward film compared to the other nominees, but it’s another score for an oft-overlooked genre.
Those are the nominees for the major categories. Do you think the Academy got things right this year? Let us know in the comments!
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