Oscar Musings 2018 by Prasad Nadhavajhala
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03 March 2018

2017 was the year of disruptions to Hollywood. Small budget movies like "Get out" (budget: $4.5 million, collections: 254 million) and "It" (budget: $35 million, collections: $690 million) smashed box-office. Some expensive movies like "King Arthur: Legend of the storm", "Monster Trucks", "The Promise", and "Geo Storm" sank without a trace. "Wonder woman" and "Lady Bird", both directed by women, were the most-talked about movies of the year. Unknown Indian movie "Secret Superstar", starring Aamir Khan in a special appearance, collected more than "Star wars: The Last Jedi" in its first weekend in China. And an unknown New York-based startup MoviePass signed up more than 2 million US subscribers in six months and changed the way we see movies in the theaters.

It is becoming a regular in the recent years to see a Mexican director coming up with an extraordinary work and sweeping the Academy awards. In 2013, Alfonso Cuarón became the first Mexican director to win an Oscar (for "Gravity"). Alejandro González Iñárritu won back-to-back Oscars for Best Director in 2014 ("Birdman") and 2015 ("The Revenant"). This year, it will be the turn of another Mexican director Guillermo del Toro ('Pan's Labyrinth') to be catapulted to Oscar greatness for "The Shape of Water". In this film, Del Toro transports us in old Hollywood style into his magical fable of a mute janitor (brilliant Sally Hawkins) and a sea monster (Doug Jones in skin-tight amphibian vest). The story, set in Cold war era, has well-written supporting characters and superbly enacted by Richard Jenkins (Illustrator neighbor), Octavia Spencer (co-janitor), Michael Stuhlbarg (Russian spy) and Michael Shannon (Agent in Government lab).

While ‘Best Director’ is a lock for "The Shape of Water", ‘Best Film’ is a toss-up between “The Shape of Water” and "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri". Black dramedy expert Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges") wrote and directed "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri". It is the story of a mother who rents three billboards to call attention to her daughter's unsolved murder. Though it has racist overtones at places, the film garnered all major 'Best Film' awards and may well conquer Sunday night.

Whatever be its fate in 'Best Film' category, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is expected to deliver guaranteed wins to Frances McDormand ('Best Actress') and Sam Rockwell ('Best Supporting Actor'). This year's 'Best Actress' category is laced with superb performances from Sally Hawkins (mute janitor in "The Shape of Water"), 23-year old Saoirse Roman (high school senior in "Lady Bird") and Meryl Streep (the first female US publisher in "The Post"). But McDormand's fiery performance in the complex role of a mother dealing with loss, grief and vengeance should fetch her the second Oscar -- 20 years after her first win in "Fargo".

This year's 'Best Actor' is one of the easily predictable categories in the recent times. There are some great performances by Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out"), Timothée Chalamet ("Call Me by Your Name") and Daniel Day-Lewis ("Phantom Thread") in this category but Oscar belongs to Gary Oldman ("Darkest Hour"). Prosthetics and heavy makeup may have helped Oldman in the jaw-dropping transformation into Winston Churchill but the actor's clinical nuances of acting (as the British prime minister dealing with Nazi Germany during World War II) are also compelling to fetch him his first Oscar.

Domineering mother of a high school senior (Laurie Metcalf in "Lady Bird"). Caustic mother of a disgraced ice skater (Allison Janney in "I, Tonya"). Faithful co-worker in a secret Government lab (Octavia Spencer in "The Shape of Water"). This year's 'Best Supporting Actress' category is packed with powerful characters and equally competent performances. Allison Janney will finally walk away with Oscar for her cruel and funny portrayal as the mother of Tonya Harding.

Italian director Luca Guadagnino's "Call Me by Your Name" is based on André Aciman's book with the same title. Set in 1983 and on the Italian Riviera, the book details the one-sided gay love story of a boy genius Elio (played by 21-year old 'Best Actor' nominee Timothée Chalamet) and his father's visiting research assistant Oliver (Arnie Hammer). James Ivory (of Ivory-Merchant fame) trimmed this complicated 281-page novel of pure emotions into an attractive screenplay (special pat for changing the entire Rome episode before the climax). It will be a wonderful sight on Sunday night to see this 89-year old veteran of Indie cinema to finally receive his first Oscar for 'Adapted Screenplay' for "Call Me by Your Name".

'Original Screenplay' category is one of the closest in the recent times with the nominations from "Lady Bird", "The Big Sick", "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri", "Get Out" and "The Shape of Water". "Three Billboards" and "The Shape of Water" are already sure winners in other major categories and the final race is between Jordan Peele ("Get Out") and Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird"). In these times of #MeToo and women empowerment, Academy may award Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird") -- one of the few successful female writer-directors in Hollywood.

Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049”) is the lead runner in ‘Best Cinematography’ category that also has the first-ever nomination for a woman in the history of this category -- Rachel Morrison ("Mudbound"). Roger has been nominated 14 times in the past but never won an Oscar. Who can forget his extraordinary cinematography in films “The Shawshank Redemption”, “No Country for Old Men”, “Revolutionary Road”, “The Reader”, “Skyfall” and “Sicario”?

My predictions for Oscar night:
Best Picture: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
Best Director: Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”)
Best Actor: Gary Oldman ("Darkest Hour”)
Best Actress: Frances McDormand (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”)
Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”)
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney ("I, Tonya”)
Best Original Screenplay: Greta Gerwig ("Lady Bird”)
Best Adapted Screenplay: James Ivory (“Call Me by Your Name”)
Best Animated Feature: “Coco”
Best Editing: “The Shape of Water”
Best Cinematography: “Blade Runner 2049”
Best Original Score: “The Shape of Water”
Best Original Song: ‘Mystery of Love’ (“Call Me by Your Name”)
Best Costume Design: “Phantom Thread”
Best Makeup & Hairstyling: “Darkest Hour”
Best Production Design: “The Shape of Water”
Best Visual Effects: “War for the Planet of the Apes”
Best Sound Editing: “Dunkirk”
Best Sound Mixing: “Dunkirk”
Best Foreign-Language Film: “A Fantastic Woman”
Best Documentary: “Faces Places”

Prasad Nadhavajhala can be contacted at [email protected]

Past articles:

Oscar musings 2017
Oscar musings 2016
Oscar musings 2015
Oscar musings 2014
Oscar musings 2013
Oscar musings 2012
Oscar musings 2011
Oscar musings 2010
Oscar musings 2009


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