Published by Epigram on the 10th January 2018
There are two types of success in Hollywood: commercial and critical. To kick off Epigram’s guide to Award Season 2018, the reason films like Wonder Woman or Star Wars do not feature in these heralded ceremonies is because Disney just don’t give a shit. (Though, it must be said Logan has tried and has been unlucky.) To succeed at the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the Oscars, a film or its players require a campaign. Campaigns can begin up to a year in advance, and usually with a fat cat in the industry on one of the awards panels attending a festival premiere and saying, “Hot damn, I think that’s one hell of an awards-worthy performance right there!” Disney films, blockbusters, or other commercial focussed films are not on the festival trail and are completely oblivious to this industry conversation. (Exception this year: Dunkirk, which had a dedicated world premiere and was nominated for Best Picture: Drama at the Golden Globes.)
While diversity is crucial in commercial films because of outreach, awards campaigns are a launchpad to smaller works and have the potential to be progressional. The first big night of Awards Season 2018 was the Golden Globe Awards on January 7th. Oprah Winfrey was the final speaker as recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award, awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for ‘outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment’. Her speech is well worth watching. She discussed watching Sidney Poitier become the first black actor to win an Oscar in 1964 - Best Actor for his role in Lilies of the Field (1963) - and its impact on her, a young, black girl.
Other key components of her speech, the only rousing nine minutes of a four hour awards ceremony, were two hashtag campaigns: #MeToo and #TimesUp. Both movements have been set up in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and are set to follow on from #OscarsSoWhite in 2016 and Donald Trump in 2017 as the major dialogue of each ceremony. #MeToo inspired millions of personal experiences of sexual assault to be shared on social media in October, mostly by women in the workplace. The Time’s Up movement is the more considered political follow up launched by the New York Times on the dawn of this year to develop a united front going forwards and establish concrete policies to prevent the sexual assault, abuse, and harassment of women in work, supported by the National Women’s Law Center in America.
Now, with the context set, I get to discuss films. Politics aside, this is the year of women. Finally, a plethora of complex roles this year have been written and given to a middle generation of outstanding American actresses, such as Frances McDormand (Three Billboards...), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), Meryl Streep (The Post), Allison Janney (I, Tonya), Laurie Metcalf (Lady Bird), and Annette Bening (Film Stars...). Add to that leading roles for the younger talents of Emma Stone (The Battle of the Sexes), Margot Robbie (I, Tonya), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), Carey Mulligan (Mudbound) and Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game), smaller roles for the likewise talented MJ Blige (Mudbound), Michelle Williams (All the Money in the World), Hong Chau (Downsizing), and Octavia Spencer (The Shape of Water), and also turns from stalwarts Judie Dench (Victoria and Abdul) and Helen Mirren (The Leisure Seeker), then 2017 has been a vintage year for female performers. However, it will most likely boil down to a battle between two pairs for the lead and supporting awards at the Oscars. Janney and Metcalf vie for the supporting gong, both playing similarly quirky mothers of rebellious daughters and McDormand, victor at the Golden Globes, comes up against Hawkins for the the main prize with my money on the quieter - in fact, mute - performance of the latter. Anyway, the 2018 awards should justifiably be a celebration of the female talent mentioned, convenient for the political narrative of the year.
While time may be up for the sole worthy female acting nominee, who is neither a mother or lover, it is not up for the male grip on the directorial nominations. Natalie Portman, whose leading performance in the upcoming Annihilation may be the first viewing of the class of 2019 awards, presented the Best Director gong at the Golden Globes, reading out the ‘all-male nominees’ with a forced smile on her face. More embarrassing was the self-aware, middle-aged faces of the chosen five: Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water), who deservedly won, Steven Spielberg (The Post), Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards…), Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk), and Ridley Scott (All the Money in the World). Each had deserving reasons for their inclusion: del Toro’s otherworldly vision, Spielberg’s nine month production feat, McDonagh’s Three Billboards… won four other Globes on the night, Nolan’s sensual immersion, and Scott’s brave and miraculous six week reshoot after recasting Kevin Spacey after his shocking involvement in the industry’s sexual assault revelations. However, there were equally deserving female candidates and the awards hierarchy missed a chance to reward talented women in a non-segregated category here.
Two young, female directors stand out and were noted by earlier, less publicly reported awards. They are Dee Rees and Greta Gerwig for Mudbound and Lady Bird respectively. Dee Rees would have also been a victory for the support of black and minority ethnic (BME) women in the industry, who were only gratified at the Globes film section with supporting actress nominations for Chau, Blige, and Spencer. Lady Bird won Best Picture at the New York Film Critics’ Awards at the end of November, both Gerwig and Rees were nominated for Best Director at the LA Film Critics’ Awards in December, and Gerwig was nominated for her role at the helm again at the Critics’ Choice Awards in January. The Globes will point to Gerwig’s screenwriting nomination and Lady Bird’s success in its widely ridiculed Best Comedy/Musical category, but that featured critical dud, but commercial smash, The Greatest Showman in its nominations. Rachel Morrison, Mudbound’s exciting cinematographer, also enjoyed success in New York and her next work is Disney and Marvel’s Black Panther. Rees and Gerwig could have replaced Nolan and Spielberg in the nominations for more original perspectives with the established period drama and romantic comedy genres.
Looking further in the disappearance of early critics’ contenders going into the Golden Globes, a compelling pattern against not only female led creative teams, but also BME and LGBTQ+ films. Get Out, the surprise film of 2017, won Jordan Peele a screenplay award in New York and three nominations (Best Picture, Best Actor for Daniel Kaluuya, and Original Screenplay) at the Critics’ Choice Awards. Its involvement at the Globes were nominations for the Best Picture and Actor categories, albeit in the throwaway Comedy/Musical category, and an outrageous snub in the Screenplay category. The Big Sick, written by Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, received some of the most favourable critical reviews of the year after its January premiere at Sundance festival, yet its sole inclusion of the season to date is a Best Picture nomination at the Critics’ Choice Awards. Call Me By Your Name was the biggest winner at all awards prior to the Globes, director Luca Guadagnino and lead actor Timothee Chalamet two stars to be cherished it seemed, yet it received half the nominations (three compared to six) as it did at the similar size Critics’ Choice Awards, and won none. The darlings of Hollywood (Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, Gary Oldman, et al.) can afford to appear only for the Globes, BAFTAs, and Oscars, but will it continue to be at the expense of smaller players who have strived for nearly a year at festival and less prestigious awards for the exposure these three events provide?
What about the male actors, only a minor story in the midst of a feminist wave and long awaited use of female talent? Well, there is the supposed last performance of Daniel Day-Lewis in the Paul Thomas Anderson 1950s fashion noir, Phantom Thread. With three Best Actor wins already for My Left Foot (1989), There Will Be Blood (2007) (also an PTA collaboration), and Lincoln (2012), a fourth statue would take Day-Lewis level with the legendary Katharine Hepburn and make him the first male actor to win four leading awards. His competition included Globes winner and perennially Oscar-snubbed - only one nomination in 2011 for Best Supporting Actor in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - Gary Oldman in a wholehearted portrayal of Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour, and the aforementioned Chalamet, who plays seventeen year old Elio as he explores his sexuality in Call Me By Your Name. It would be a complete shock if an actor outside of those three win at this point. Tom Hanks has awards pedigree, but the magnitude of his performance, secondary in The Post to Streep’s Katharine Graham (a turn that is due to miss out thanks to the depth of the female category), is not equal to the three favourites. James Franco (The Disaster Artist) is an outside bet for his performance of maniacal filmmaker-slash-meme Tommy Wiseau after being awarded Best Actor Comedy/Musical at the Golden Globes, but he and all others mentioned in the run-up cannot be expected to write speeches. While a nod to youth and Timothee Chalamet would be a pleasing result, this is most definitely the year of women.
And to wrap? Best Picture of course. The best film of the year supposedly - the most complete - can be difficult to predict. The Golden Globes recipient, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri can feel confident after the successes of Moonlight (2017), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Argo (2012), The Artist (2011), and Slumdog Millionaire (2008) have meant half of Globe winners have secured the big scoop in the last ten years. However, any of the fellow nominees for the Best Drama category at the Globes could win: Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, or The Post. Those Best Drama nominations exclude Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson also missed out on a Best Director nod), Get Out, Lady Bird (both included under Comedy), Mudbound, and forgotten early contender The Florida Project, directed by the brilliant young innovator, Sean Baker. Any of those could be one of the eight nominees for Best Picture at the Oscars on March 4th, and from there, who knows? The final award could be the greatest surprise yet, or a total disappointment (see Spotlight (2016)). Your move, Academy, will you reward industry prestige or young talent?