The Oscar nominations arrive this year in the wake of long weeks and months of heated conversation about sexual harassment and women’s call to arms to claim their role in changing the system.
That clearly couldn’t stay out of the most important prize in show business, so this year’s nominations can be read not only through the lens of artistic value, but also as a result of the controversies surrounding Hollywood.
The most nominated movie is Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of water, a fantasy romance set in the Fifties, where the Mexican director mixes as always his love for the genre with political issues as in one of his most iconic movies, Pan’s Labyrinth, set during the Spanish Civil War.
In this case the loving gaze is on the “diverse” (and what’s most diverse than a water monster?), and the criticism is toward a militarized and repressive political system. Among The Shape of Water’s 13 nominations there are the serious ones: Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Actor, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing.
But perhaps Del Toro’s picture will end up “robbed” of the most coveted prizes by other movies more obviously in line with the present atmosphere, just like one year ago, when the big favourite La La Land lost the major Oscar prize to the epitome of politically correctness that was Moonlight.
Another strong candidate for the Best Picture is Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, a movie that breathes the violence of today’s fragile coexistence (the movie is set in the South of the US where racial tensions never really disappeared), but also the pietas towards its characters, people hurt by life who often prefer to be angry instead of confronting their pain.
The group of five nominated for Best Actress this year range from favorite Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, to multi-nominated Meryl Streep (The Post), Margot Robbie (who did an amazing job impersonating infamous skater Tonya Harding in the funny but intelligent I, Tonya) and Sally Hawkins (The shape of water) and Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), both starring in one of the Best Picture nominees.
One can wonder if the absence of Kate Winslet, whose interpretation of the romantically disenchanted waitress in Wonder Wheel was critically appraised, could have something to do with the controversies surrounding its director Woody Allen.
Many critics observed that this year the Oscar are not running the risk of accusastions of being “so white” as happened a couple of years ago. The presence of Denzel Washington (Roman J. Israel, Esq.) and Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) among the Best Actor category and Olivia Spencer as Supporting Actress and director Jordan Peele take care of it, even if none of them is actually likely to win.
Daniel Day Lewis and above all Gary Oldman as a powerful Winston Churchill will probably prevail as Leading Actor and Alison Janney is likely to repeat her Golden Globe win for I, Tonya.
As for the Best director predictions are much more difficult…
We greet with satisfaction the 8 nominations of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, where the British director, pushing as always the boundaries of the cinematic medium, managed to convey with scarce words and great images the drama of a pivotal historical situation, the sense of courage and sacrifice, the true meaning of being heroes.
Ideally coupled with Nolan’s masterpiece there is the more “political” Darkest Hour where “the other side” of the same events is told with a completely different approach.
Paul Thomas Anderson with Phantom Thread will be tough competition as will the already mentioned Del Toro, unless the voters decide to be “politically correct” and give the award to the only female director nominated, Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird)…but that would really be too big a concession to the atmosphere.
Italian director Luca Guadagnino nabbed 4 nominations (included Best Motion Picture and Best Actor ) with his gay romance Call me by your name.
Guadagnino is a critical darling in USA but Italian audiences basically keep ignoring him and perhaps this has to do to with his way of presenting Italy (as happens also here with the Northern Italian countryside, and before with Milan and southern island Pantelleria) in a stylized and picturesque manner that appeals more to foreigners that to Italians themselves.
As we already said this year’s nomination are as “diverse” as possible in this industry. This is certainly positive, because it’s important that an industry with such a wide impact on culture reflect as much as possible the richness and the different souls America is made of.
But one has the right to doubt if sometimes that translates into bias and, at the worst, some sort of bland censorship.
Yet among the best examples of this “diverse” element and of the ability to translate a particular culture for the mainstream audience there is Pixar’s masterpiece Coco, nominated for Best Animated Feature Film.
It is also very interesting to have a look at the candidates for the best Foreign Language Film. The selection put together the winners of some of the most important European festivals such as the Hungarian On Body and Soul and the Chilean Una Mujer Fantastica from the Berlinale, Danish The Square and Russian Loveless from Cannes and finally Libanese The Insult from Venice Film Festival.
Most of these movies share a focus on characters and problematic relationships: in particular the strange and poetic connection between two outsiders in On Body and Soul, the conflict between a Christian and a Muslim in The Insult, the bitters stages of a divorces and its consequences in a child for Loveless, but also the difficult aftermath of the death of a lover in Una Mujer fantastica , where the woman in question is actually a transsexual dealing with the mean relatives of his/her partner. Whereas The Square has a more intellectual approach on the absurd world of Art.
If we had to choose we would like to spend our vote on the Hungarian awkward love story more than for the more “conventional” take of the Chilean transgressive pièce, because we felt more authenticity and relevance in the attempt at revealing the fears and weakness of human beings in On Body and Soul.
Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster. Luisa Cotta Ramosino is an Italian television writer and creative producer; she is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri del cinema and Scegliere un film, an annual collection of film reviews.