Movies

What It’s Like to Watch Every 2019 Oscar-Nominated Film, Volume One

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As a costume designer who moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, it should come as no surprise that I love Oscar season. In grade school, I wore prom dresses while watching the telecast in my living room, and in college, I invited friends over for Oscar-watching parties. Once, I even won a ticket to the Oscar Red Carpet Fan Experience, and I’m staring at an Oscar poster as I write this piece. As someone who practically lives for this particular awards show, I try to make it a point to see as many nominated films as possible. Last year was a personal best—I saw every single Best Picture nominee before the nominations were announced.

This year proved to be a different story. Between the decline of MoviePass, my reluctance to join another movie theatre subscription service, and what I can only describe as a sleepy, lackluster awards season, I had only seen half of the Best Picture nominees by nomination day, alongside a smattering of the other nominated films. While looking over the full nomination list, I realized that if I simply watched the rest of the Best Picture nominees, I would be well on my way to covering a vast majority of the other nomination categories—and that’s when I thought, Why not? If I was going to be critical of this awards season overall and use adjectives such as “sleepy” and “lackluster” to describe it, why not attempt to back these opinions up with substantive evidence by watching all of the nominated films?

For this Dinner Party “miniseries,” I’ll be doing the heavy lifting for you this Oscar season, chronicling my journey through watching all of the nominated films in such a condensed time frame. Read on for some of my thoughts and reactions about the fourteen films I saw before nomination day—and before I formally set out on this wild cinematic journey.

Bohemian Rhapsody

The recent accusations against Bryan Singer came out the day after the Academy Award nominations were announced, but they are simply the latest in the long history of Singer’s alleged sexual harassment and misconduct over the course of two decades. Yes, the film tried to get Singer removed as the credited director, and he was fired from the production, but they should not have hired him in the first place.

It is unfortunate, to put it mildly, that the Academy and other major awards would choose to overlook these victims and honor this film with a Best Picture nomination. Ethically, I am fine with the other nominations, as there were countless other individuals who worked on the film and deserve to be recognized for their contributions. But why should the Academy even consider bestowing its highest honor upon a subpar film—albeit one that just happened to perform well at the box office—that was helmed by a reprehensible director?

All of this aside, I do believe Rami Malek’s performance was one of the best in recent years, and I would not be surprised to see him win in the Best Actor category for this performance. Even still, it’s impossible to separate the film from Singer himself, so I would not be surprised to see the film go home empty-handed.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

I saw this movie because I expected Melissa McCarthy to be nominated for her performance, but I was surprised to see it receive two other nominations. I am thrilled at McCarthy’s recognition with her Best Actress nod, alongside a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Richard E. Grant, and for Best Adapted Screenplay as well. Even though I don’t necessarily think this was one of the greatest films of the year, it would have been nice to have director Marielle Heller in the running for a nomination as well.

The Favourite

Tied with Roma as the most nominated film this year, one would think The Favourite could be an actual favorite to win Best Picture—and yet that seems almost crazy to think. Though it is certainly the most tame and mainstream of Yorgos Lanthimos’s last few films, it is by no means actually “tame” or “mainstream,” making it shocking—in an awesome way—that it got so much recognition from the Academy. The Oscars do love an arthouse film, and a film centered around Queen Anne and her affairs with two women in her own court seems just palatable enough to garner any nods.

The film is a delightful examination of power, status, and the sacrifices one must make to obtain these treasured objectives. All of the performances are superb, but Olivia Colman shines in her role as Queen Anne. In a year without competition from Glenn Close (The Wife) or Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born), Colman would have been a shoe-in for Best Actress for her comedic, tragic portrayal of this historic figure. On the other hand, Nicholas Hoult was absolutely robbed of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his witty and snarky performance.

While this movie is technically a period piece—and therefore usually a frontrunner in the Best Costume Design category, period pieces can also teeter on banal when it comes to the original design. Subverting expectations, designer Sandy Powell allowed herself to have fun within the predominantly black and white color scheme of the movie, utilizing striking geometric and symmetrical patterns that add to the overall look.

Lanthimos is a preeminent auteur, well deserving of the Best Director nod, and this film would have gone by unnoticed had it not been for his unique approach to handling the everyday life of his characters. This film, unlike most period pieces, is not centered around a pivotal event in the characters’ lives but rather how they exist and function in their world.

Free Solo

If you still have the opportunity to see Free Solo in theaters, do it! I don’t think it’ll win, but this is my personal favorite pick for Best Documentary, as it is one of the most thrilling films I’ve seen in recent memory. Watching (in large format) a man free climb Half Dome truly had me on the edge of my seat for most of the film. From the subject to the directors, the sheer talent and skill required by everyone involved in this film makes it remarkable enough, but what really elevates this documentary is the exploration of the interpersonal relationships of the people who commit these incredible feats. These climbers do not go on these journeys alone, and it is interesting to see how the challenges fit into various relationships.

If Beale Street Could Talk

I hesitate to call this film beautiful because I found it to be equally devastating, but If Beale Street Could Talk was so visually and audibly stunning that I was very surprised it didn’t sneak into the Best Picture field. Additionally, it shocked me that Barry Jenkins was only nominated for his adaptation and not direction as well. Jenkins is another director that thrives on simplicity by allowing space for complexities to form. Although brief, Regina King’s performance was extremely powerful, and I fully believe she should win for Best Supporting Actress. Lastly, one of the standouts from this incredible and underrated film is the score, an enveloping work that made the love story accessible to the audience through its sweet and romantic themes. With the shocking snub of First Man in the Best Original Score category, this absence left the field wide open for a win here—hopefully.

Incredibles 2

I saw Incredibles 2 on its opening night as part of a double feature with the first Incredibles; this allowed for the audience to bridge the short narrative time jump in the film and shift focus away from the fourteen-year span between the two films’ actual release dates. Pixar doesn’t always nail the sequel, but this one was pretty straightforward in tackling the themes of the first film—but with the added twist of exploring them from Elastigirl’s perspective. While I’m not sure it was quite the “feminist” movie Brad Bird and Pixar were hoping for, it was interesting to add another female-led film to Pixar’s relatively short list: including Brave, Inside Out, and Finding Dory. While I do not expect it to win, nor do I think it should win Best Animated Feature, it’s always hard to count out Pixar in this category.

Mary Poppins Returns

Each year, my family sees a movie on Christmas, and this happened to be our film of choice for 2018. I am not a huge fan of the original Mary Poppins, so I was not actively comparing this film to that one. Additionally, I appreciated that this film was a continuation of a story and not a remake. As a sequel to the original Mary Poppins, one might assume that this movie should have had a good shot at winning in the music-related categories, but I don’t think that any of the songs or the score stood out enough to become a frontrunner in either of these categories.

However, I’m torn between this film and another (stay tuned for this pick!) for Best Costume Design. I prefer fantasy costumes to period pieces, but that’s typically not the case with the Academy; this film is set in the 1930s, and it blends elements of period and fantasy together, with bold, vibrant silhouettes and colors. Costume designer Sandy Powell, double nominated in the category for The Favourite, has stated that the live/animation scene was her most challenging scene to design, as she wanted the physical costumes to blend in seamlessly with the animation. By keeping the garments 2D and simply painting in shadows and highlights, she was able to achieve something the original film could not: making the live actors and their clothing look as though they were existing within the animated world.

Mary Queen of Scots

As a period piece, it should come as no surprise that Mary Queen of Scots would pull through with a double nomination in both costume design and makeup and hairstyling. While I wouldn’t mind or be surprised to see it win for Best Makeup and Hairstyling as the wigs for Queen Elizabeth were truly remarkable, I would be bummed to see it win for Best Costume Design. I’ll admit that this is mainly a personal preference, as I think films should feel more free to stray from historical accuracy (i.e. The Favourite) in favor of fully developed storytelling. I am not upset that it was nominated per se, as it does take an incredible amount of research and effort to recreate historically correct clothing, especially for royalty.

Lastly—why wasn’t Margot Robbie more utilized in this film? She was incredible and should have snuck into the Best Supporting Actress field. All hail Queen Margot!

A Quiet Place

While I was a little surprised that this film didn’t get a nomination for Best Original Screenplay, or even a dark horse acting nomination for Emily Blunt’s performance, I’m glad that A Quiet Place received at least some recognition from the Academy. And it’s not even that I really loved this movie. In fact, I had a few issues with it—that’s another story for another day—but I’ll admit that it helped horror films continue to thrive from the genre’s banner year two years ago with The Shape of Water and Get Out. In terms of the Best Sound Editing category specifically, I would really like for it to win, as the film’s whole power and form relied on the sound editing—which isn’t something you can say very often. The noises were even more jarring and scary because of the quiet nature of the film, though arguably, the actual silence was even eerier.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

As a Disney fan this may come as a surprise, but I did not see Wreck It Ralph. Because of this, I was able to view Ralph Breaks the Internet simply as its own film without comparing it to the first one. While it is not necessarily rare to see a film focus on friendship, it is less common to see one that focuses on the struggles that happen when you find yourself having different interests and passions than your friends and how this can sometimes lead to distance in friendships, both emotional and physical. As someone who has close friends all over the country, this film pulled at my heartstrings, making it harder for me to separate the joy I felt from the story versus the actual merits of the animation. This property is from Walt Disney Animation rather than Pixar, making it a fascinating study in how Disney grows and experiments with various animation forms.

Ready Player One

When I watched this movie, I certainly did not expect it to receive attention from the Academy, so I’m not sure I can even speak specifically to its nomination in the Best Visual Effects category. To be perfectly honest, I went in wanting to dislike Ready Player One, as I am very over the reboot craze; I feel that it fails to grasp why things were popular and why they remain beloved. Certainly, the plot relies heavily on a fondness towards nostalgia, but the technological advances that have been made since many of the properties were released added a nice update to some favorite movies such as The Shining. Yes, the movie’s effects looked very cool to a casual audience member such as myself, but to be completely honest, this is one category where I tend to defer to experts on the matter since I’m not exactly sure what to look for to gage excellence.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I’m choosing to blame this film’s snub as a Best Picture nominee due to its late release and relatively simple awards campaign. Without a doubt, this film was my absolute favorite of 2018 and the Best Picture winner in my heart. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse had everything that I have been craving from superhero movies of late. Finally—a film that focuses on what happens when the person behind the mask dies or moves on, and the powers that can lie within any of us when we choose to accept the great responsibility that comes with great power.

It’s not an easy feat to juggle multiple universe and plot lines, but this film perfectly nails what connects each Spider-hero and what distinguishes them as well. Such a strong script requires animation to match, and this movie is no exception. From the colors to characters movements and reactions, Into the Spider-Verse chose to respect the source material—the humble comic book. Through this obvious homage, the movie elevated both mediums, making it an ideal choice to win Best Animated Feature Film.

A Star Is Born

When I saw this film on opening weekend back in October, I did not think it was going to have or, frankly, even warrant the level of praise it has received this awards season, especially not in the Best Picture realm. Any other year, I’m not sure this film would have pushed past other frontrunners except for with the performances, Bradley Cooper’s direction, and of course “Shallow.” Upon second viewing, however, I realized that I was too harsh on this film initially.

A Star Is Born is a splendid, heartbreaking love story. While there are no nominations that I am necessarily against here, there are certain ones that I believe are well-deserved, such as for acting. All of the performances in this film were extraordinary. While it may be a long shot for Sam Elliot to win for Best Supporting Actor, it would be a very nice surprise on Oscar Sunday given that he has yet to win one of those little golden statuettes. I am still shocked about Bradley Cooper’s Best Director snub, but it seems to be one of the few consistent things this awards season. Finally, “Shallow” is almost guaranteed to win in its category for Best Original Song, as it is an instant classic that so perfectly fits not only the film but this particular moment in history as well.

Vice

For such a divisive film, I’m shocked that Vice is also one of the most nominated movies this year. I’m naturally a sucker for any political narrative since I went to college in Washington, D.C. While I understand the critiques and have some serious issues with the movie—mainly that it needed some more focus—I did enjoy watching it and generally agree with most of the nominations. Christian Bale has been on my radar for a long time now as a potential Best Actor winner, and Best Supporting Actress nominee Amy Adams is likewise masterful, as always, in this particular performance.

I’m not entirely sold on Sam Rockwell’s Best Supporting Actor nomination, mostly because I wish this nod would have gone to Nicholas Hoult for The Favourite instead. I’ll leave you with this hot take: I completely disagree with the Best Original Screenplay nomination. Again, though I love the tone of the film and agree with Adam McKay’s Best Director nod, I feel as though Vice was inconsistent and needed some blinders to focus the plot, which is where a much tighter script could have helped.

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