By Leah Goggins
As in life, there are winners and there are losers; there are snubs and there are miraculous nominations; there are performances by Sufjan Stevens featuring St. Vincent, and there are terrible jokes about Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway presenting the award for Best Picture even after their spectacularly public failure last year.
Fear not, dear reader; the Academy Awards have come and gone and this Black Warrior Film Festival blogger has lived to tell the tale.
Let’s break it down.
THE WINNERS (+ THE LOSERS)
The first little gold man of the evening went (deservedly) to Sam Rockwell, who stole scenes in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as an out of control, racist cop who was simultaneously completely oblivious and excruciatingly cruel. While the redemptive storyline for Rockwell’s character was problematic, to say the least, his portrayal of Officer Dixon was raw and compelling, a stand-out in a cast of venerable actors.
Only moments later, Mark Bridges (The Artist, anyone?) won the Best Costume Design Award for Phantom Thread, the Paul Thomas Anderson film that features some incredibly intricate dresses. Up against adapted pieces like Beauty and the Beast and Darkest Hour, alongside other period films like Victoria & Abdul and The Shape of Water, Bridges faced tough competition from his fellow nominees.
Allison Janney scored Best Supporting Actress for her role in I, Tonya, a revelation particularly disappointing to all those Laurie Metcalf fans out there (points at self). But honestly, guys; compare the Oscar bait clips! Someone give my girl Laurie her due! Janney also beat out Octavia Spencer, who portrayed the heroic best friend Zelda in The Shape of Water, wherein she had to be funny, serious, angry, and a slew of other things that Spencer so rarely gets credit for. In Janney’s defense, her performance as LaVona Harding was at least one of the two best portrayals of a mother in cinema this year (here’s looking at you, Laurie Metcalf).
Later in the evening, James Ivory and Call Me by Your Name nabbed the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, a category where he faced very little competition; Virgil Williams and Dee Rees’s Mudbound and Aaron Sorkin’s Molly’s Game were his fiercest competitors, but Ivory’s touching and nuance-driven script is impressive. He manages to capture much of André Aciman’s original charm and tension, keeping the dialogue sparse and the action compelling. Added bonus? He accepted the award in a shirt with Timothée Chalamet’s face on it.
Pixar’s glamorous and heartfelt Coco had a solid year, snagging Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. In the first category it faced competition from the gorgeously handcrafted Loving Vincent, an oil-painted retelling of the tumultuous life of Vincent van Gogh; in the second category, its toughest competition came from This Is Me, a big, loud, poppy number from The Greatest Showman that was better suited for the Tonys. The film’s win for Best Original Song made one of its composers, Robert Lopez, the first-ever double EGOT. That’s right: ya boy Robert has two Emmys from the Television Academy, two Golden Globes from the Hollywood Foreign Press, two Academy Awards and two Tonys courtesy of the American Theatre Wing. #resumégoals, you guys.
The first of The Big Four™ given out at the end of the ceremony went to the direction of Guillermo del Toro for his poignant and awe-striking fairy tale (fishy tale?) The Shape of Water. Del Toro’s film, which he also produced, wrote, and envisioned, follows a nonverbal custodian (Sally Hawkins) at a super-creepy, high-security experimental government facility, where she falls in love with a kidnapped amphibian god. Del Toro does a delightful job pushing his actors to their very best performance, as evidenced by Sally Hawkins’s lovely Oscar clip.
The Shape of Water also scooped up awards for three more of its thirteen(!!!) nominations. The film first earned a golden guy for Best Production Design, not surprising, given the detail-oriented designs for each character’s home, as well as the look of the government lab where Sally Hawkins’s fish friend is held for most of the film. The movie also took home a trophy for its jaunty score, each of Alexandre Desplat’s pieces perfectly suited to del Toro’s vision. And last but nowhere near least, del Toro also scored Best Picture, claiming victory over his seven fearsome fellow nominees (oh, and also The Post, which really had no chance). Excitingly enough, The Shape of Water, was the first female-led film (according to the nominations by The Academy) to win since Million Dollar Baby in 2004.
Best Acting went to two highly esteemed performances, Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour and Frances McDormand in Three Billboards. Oldman was quick to thank Winston Churchill, who he and his convincing prosthetics portrayed, in his speech, while McDormand used her time for a political message. McDormand, who starred as a angry, grieving mother in Three Billboards, asked all of the women nominees to stand up in the crowd while she called for an end to misogyny and racism in the workplace, ending her speech with two words: “inclusion rider.” (This led to about 97% of Oscars viewership to immediately Google “inclusion rider” and raise their eyebrows in unison when nothing helpful came up.)
McDormand’s speech was the limit of the spotlight received by the TIME’S UP and #MeToo movements on Sunday night. Greta Gerwig, who was the only woman nominated in the Best Director category, did not bring home any awards for Lady Bird. Yet, in a choice to inspire eye-rolls across the nation, the award for Best Short Film (Animated) went to Dear Basketball. The film was animated by Glen Keane and narrated by Kobe Bryant, who has faced resurfacing rape allegations in recent years. That’s right, you guys: Lady Bird walked away with zero Oscars and somehow, some way, Kobe Bryant wound up with one.
Taraji P. Henson introduced Mary J. Blige to the stage for the first performance of the night. Blige, who was nominated for her original song Mighty River from the Netflix original Mudbound, performed with a small choir and a particularly excitable tambourine player. While lacking in the mounting power of the studio version, Blige’s vocals remained pretty strong throughout, though she did seem to be limiting herself at the beginning.
Next up on the list was the tribute from Call Me by Your Name, by Sufjan freaking Stevens. Performing a highly shortened version of Mystery of Love with a band of merry, indie musicians, Stevens put on a quiet and slightly shaky show (a contrast from his usual, bolder level of performance, you guys). His time onstage featured art-rock darling St. Vincent on slightly mistimed backup vocals, plus the best Gucci suit jacket I have ever seen. One of the night’s better performances, especially considering the technical difficulties that seemed to be happening onstage during many of the songs.
The music continued with a…. weird performance from our good friends at Coco, which began with Gael Garcia Bernal doing an awkward rendition of the first few bars of Remember Me before turning it over to Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade, who performed the pop radio version alongside dancers and twinkling sugar skulls. I have a lot of questions about this, you guys. Was Bernal doing his impression of the child from the film? Was he just really struggling out there? Why did we allow this to happen when we could have just let Benjamin Bratt perform it as he does in the movie and been perfectly happy? We may never know!
To save us from the somewhat baffling Coco performance, in swooped Andra Day and Common, performing their song Stand Up For Something from the acclaimed biopic Marshall (starring Chadwick Boseman aka Black Panther). Andra Day, per usual, was an impeccable live vocalist, and Common was Common, so that was pretty straightforward. Day and Common were joined onstage by a small group of activists, including the likes of Dolores Huerta and Janet Mock, driving home the action-oriented message of the song.
To finish out the nominees, This Is Me, from the P.T. Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman, was performed by Keala Settle. The top of the number seemed slightly affected by the aforementioned in-ear issues, but Settle seemed to gain confidence and strength when she was joined onstage by a horde of singers and dancers mid-way through the song. After flying through the final verse with powerful vocals, Settle got emotional near the end, and honestly, same, girl.
Lupita N’yongo and Kumail Nanjiani had perhaps the best set of zingers between two presenters, carrying on a banter about being immigrants and having unpronounceable names (someone get Saoirse Ronan in on this action). If it weren’t enough that Lupita and Kumail (yes, we’re on a first name basis) were the cutest dang people you’ve ever seen in your whole life, they are *hilarious.* And Lupita’s dress? No words.
Later, Maya Rudolph (who was also in attendance to support her husband’s Best Picture nominee) and her pal Tiffany Haddish took off their shoes and introduced both short film awards. After some back and forth about losing their toes to the cruelty of stilettos, they gently reassured the audience that despite the fact that two black women were presenting these awards, the Oscars are still pretty white. No worries, y’all. The two comedians are now in high (Twitter-fueled) demand to become the brand new Tina Fey-Amy Poehler hosting duo. Rudolph-Haddish for the Golden Globes in 2018?
Making headlines as a presenter was Daniela Vega, the first openly transgender presenter in Academy Awards history. Vega stars in the Chilean film A Fantastic Woman (or, Una Mujer Fantástica) which took home the award for Best Foreign-Language Film. “A Fantastic Woman” has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics--which would explain why you’ve seen the previews before every screening of Call Me by Your Name. The film will be distributed stateside to larger cities throughout the spring, and has already opened in Atlanta.
Wow, you guys. We made it. We made it through the Oscars!
We made it through the weird Academy Awards-sponsored ad for… war? We made it through Jimmy Kimmel’s incessant jet-ski jokes, through Lady Bird snubs, through the fact that Blade Runner 2049 won two Oscars (proud to say I predicted those, y’all), through the mysterious tale of Frances McDormand’s stolen (but returned) Oscar, and we even made it through Armie Hammer and Chadwick Boseman’s amazing suits. Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty didn’t misread the Best Picture winner, and I didn’t even make you read any bad Three Billboards jokes! Talk about a successful Oscars.
I guess we’ll meet you back here next year, and here’s hoping there’s some good drama to make fun of in 2019.