We’ve come to the end of the road, and unlike Boyz II Men, I’m so ready to let go. It happens around the same time every year as the prestige film season coverage comes to a close with the Academy Awards, and we seem to have been talking about the same set of films and performances since late August or early September (around the time of the major trifecta of film festivals in Telluride, Venice and Toronto). What more can be said?
At the Academy Awards ceremonies Sunday night, Oscars in the top categories went to The Shape of Water for Best Picture and Best Director (and Best Original Score and Production Design); Darkest Hour’s Gary Oldman for Best Actor; Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s Frances McDormand for Best Actress and Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor; I Tonya’s Allison Janney for Best Supporting Actress; Call Me By Your Name for Best Adapted Screenplay; Get Out for Best Original Screenplay; and Coco for Best Animated Feature.
But in terms of crafting the final feature narrative of the awards season, it’s worth mentioning Get Out’s double wins at Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards (for Best Director and Best Film), which some were willing to hail as an emerging trend or a last possible gasp for an upset for Best Picture at the Oscars. The last four Independent Spirit Awards winners resulted in Best Picture honors for 12 Years a Slave, Birdman, Spotlight and Moonlight, so precedent watchers were taking notice.
And then, lo and behold, the film’s creator Jordan Peele became the first African-American to earn the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. While this wasn’t a complete surprise, since Peele received the same distinction from the Writers Guild, there was an assumption that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s writer-director Martin McDonagh might ride the Academy Award performance wave into the winner’s circle for his original script.
But in the search for miracles, my eyes were on another category.
What do the following films have in common: The Shawshank Redemption; Fargo; Kundun; O Brother, Where Art Thou?; The Man Who Wasn’t There; No Country for Old Men; The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford; The Reader; True Grit; Skyfall; Prisoners; Unbroken; and Sicario? How about Roger Deakins as cinematographer? Beginning in 1995, Deakins earned Oscar nominations in cinematography for each of these films and wound up losing. Thirteen times. Last night, the 14th time was the charm as Deakins finally claimed the top prize for Blade Runner 2049, doing so against Rachel Morrison, the first female nominee in the category (Mudbound). With films like Sound of My Voice, Fruitvale Station and now Black Panther under her belt, let’s hope it doesn’t take Morrison as long as Deakins to grab some Oscar glory for herself.
Back to the top prize: I’m not sure how I feel about The Shape of Water as a Best Picture winner. From Call Me by Your Name (the very first film I saw at Toronto in 2017) and Lady Bird (Toronto was where the early buzz first kicked in) to my never-ending love affair with the Dee Rees drama Mudbound and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri plus the late sleeper dreams for Get Out, this year’s awards season was certainly a roller coaster ride — a long strange trip that has left me wondering what happened to the rules and the idea of expectations. I suppose there is some truth to the adage about rules being made to be broken.
In making picks, I’ve stopped largely living inside my head. I play the odds now. I read the tealeaves — scouting the winners from the various guilds (actors, writers, directors and producers) and a handful of the other known awards shows like the Independent Spirits. There’s a degree of sports analysis that goes into filling out an Oscar ballot that has absolutely nothing to do with personal preference.
I have to admit that The Shape of Water is only my third favorite Guillermo del Toro film behind Pan’s Labyrinth and Cronos, even with its peerless performance from Sally Hawkins. But del Toro’s unconventional love story is the big fish of the season. Let the new hunt begin.
Regional audiences have one last (and quite necessary) opportunity to look back at the season when Cincinnati World Cinema screens the Academy’s live-action shorts program at Memorial Hall this Saturday and Sunday. Screenwriter/actress Rachel Shenton and director Chris Overton shared the spotlight as their short The Silent Child won the Oscar, but these films make winners of us all. Take the time to bask in the afterglow.
Contact tt stern-enzi: [email protected]