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The Oscars are said and done for another year, and overall I am very pleased with the results. I can agree with the winners, I applaud many of the speeches and the show was a delight to watch.
Most importantly, how did I do? I made predictions in 19 of the 24 categories, and as the show started I did very well, racking up correct prediction after correct prediction. This was pleasing if a little predictable, but as things continued surprises started to appear, such as Get Out winning Original Screenplay and Dunkirk picking up Editing. Overall, I correctly predicted the winners in 15 out of my 19 picks, which at 78% is pretty good going. I’m no gambler, but every year I am tempted.
|Picture||Correctly Predicted?||Directing||Correctly Predicted?|
|The Shape of Water||No||Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water||Yes|
|Call Me by Your Name||Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk|
|Darkest Hour||Jordan Peele, Get Out|
|Dunkirk||Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird|
|Get Out||Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread|
|Phantom Thread||Makeup and Hairstyling|
|The Post||Darkest Hour||Yes|
|Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||Victoria & Abdul|
|Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour||Yes||Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||Yes|
|Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name||Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water|
|Daniel Day,Lewis, Phantom Thread||Margot Robbie, I, Tonya|
|Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out||Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird|
|Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.||Meryl Streep, The Post|
|Supporting Actor||Supporting Actress|
|Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||Yes||Allison Janney, I, Tonya||Yes|
|Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project||Mary J. Blige, Mudbound|
|Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread|
|Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water||Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird|
|Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World||Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water|
|Adapted Screenplay||Original Screenplay|
|Call Me by Your Name||Yes||Get Out||No|
|The Disaster Artist||The Big Sick|
|Molly’s Game||The Shape of Water|
|Mudbound||Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri|
|Original Score||Original Song|
|The Shape of Water||Yes||‘Remember Me’ from Coco||No|
|Dunkirk||“Mighty River” from Mudbound|
|Phantom Thread||“Mystery of Love” from Call Me by Your Name|
|Star Wars: The Last Jedi||“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall|
|Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||“This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman|
|Sound Editing||Sound Mixing|
|Baby Driver||Baby Driver|
|Blade Runner 2049||Blade Runner 2049|
|The Shape of Water||The Shape of Water|
|Star Wars: The Last Jedi||Star Wars: The Last Jedi|
|Production Design||Visual Effects|
|The Shape of Water||Yes||Blade Runner 2049||Yes|
|Beauty and the Beast||Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2|
|Blade Runner 2049||Kong: Skull Island|
|Darkest Hour||Star Wars: The Last Jedi|
|Dunkirk||War for the Planet of the Apes|
|Phantom Thread||Yes||Blade Runner 2049||Yes|
|Beauty and the Beast||Darkest Hour|
|The Shape of Water||Mudbound|
|Victoria & Abdul||The Shape of Water|
|Film Editing||Animated Feature|
|Baby Driver||The Boss Baby|
|I, Tonya||The Breadwinner|
|The Shape of Water||Ferdinand|
|Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri||Loving Vincent|
The biggest delights for me personally were one predicted winner and one unexpected though desired victory. When Roger Deakins was announced as the winner of Best Cinematography, I applauded from my sofa. After 14 nominations and such fantastic work in The Shawshank Redemption, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country For Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Skyfall, Sicario and many more, it was an absolute delight to see Deakins finally honoured for the extraordinary visuals of Blade Runner 2049. Well shot sir, well shot.
I wanted The Shape of Water to win Best Picture but expected that award to go to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Over the course of the show, deviations from my expectations made that less likely, beginning with Get Out winning Original Screenplay. In recent years, Best Picture has also won Screenplay, Editing or Directing (making The Departed a quintessential winner for 2006). Since Martin McDonagh was not nominated for Directing, a likely win for him and the film was Original Screenplay. Without that, and with Editing going to Dunkirk, Picture became more open. And once Guillermo Del Toro won Directing, The Shape of Water seemed ever more likely. But in my scepticism, I did not see the members of AMPAS voting for a fantasy film. When Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the winner, I applauded again. For a fantasy/monster/sci fi movie to win Best Picture shows that the Academy members are not as conservative as they used to be, embracing more radical and surprising choices.
The show as a whole was very well done. Jimmy Kimmell hosted with great humour, wryness and affection. I especially like Kimmell’s gag of bringing in audiences, a move he and his team pioneered last year by arranging a tour group to come into the Kodak Theater, and built on this year by taking several movie stars into a nearby screening of A Wrinkle in Time. Had I been in that cinema, my mind would have been blown by epic proportions with the sudden arrival of Guillermo Del Toro, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Margot Robbie, Ansel Elgort, Mark Hamill and the rest. Plus a hotdog cannon!Perhaps the strongest legacy of this year’s Oscars, however, will be the politics. After a few years of controversy over all white acting nominees, the recent scandals over harassment and the subsequent #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns prompted debate and resistance. Kimmel named and shamed Harvey Weinstein as only the second person to be expelled from AMPAS; actresses received greater prominence as various winners of the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role presented major awards. Last year’s Best Actress Emma Stone presented Directing to Guillermo Del Toro, and two pairs of Oscar winners presented this year’s Best Actor and Best Actress awards: Jane Fonda and Helen Mirren to Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour and Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence to Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, respectively. McDormand made perhaps the most impassioned speech of the night when she encouraged all the female nominees to stand up, be counted and be counted.
Some might complain about this political element, either arguing that the Oscars are about art which is not political, or that the Oscars are entertainment and too frivolous or commercial to engage in politics. I reject both these positions because art is and always has been political, and with its extraordinary reach it would be a terrible waste if cinema were not political. The Academy recognised this through a retrospective on war cinema, dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces and introduced touchingly by actor and Vietnam veteran Wes Studi. Secondly, entertainment expresses social and political concerns purely by its production within particular contexts – the dominance of men in the film industry and cinematic output is a political reality and one that is long overdue a challenge. As recent films have demonstrated, you can have hugely successful films with female directors and leads, and the studios apparently taking such risks demonstrates that the only risk is to conservative ideology. For certain, time is up, and my heartiest applause to every presenter and winner at the 90th Annual Academy Awards who used that grandest stage and widest audience to highlight the state of their industry and to call for change.
Actress in a Leading Role
Of the four performances I have seen (I, Tonya being the unknown), I loved all of these displays. Sally Hawkins demonstrated her extraordinary ability to communicate without words, while Saoirse Ronan managed to make a potentially infuriating character endearing. Frances McDormand also expresses everything about her remarkable character through every part of her performance, and Meryl Streep is as wonderful as ever. If I have to pick one that I enjoyed the most, I go (perhaps suspiciously) for the one I saw most recently. Come Oscar night, however, I predict that Frances McDormand will pick up her second golden baldie.
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (predicted winner)
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird (preferred winner)
Meryl Streep, The Post
Actor in a Leading Role
Gary Oldman will win. There, I said it. With all the plaudits, the physical transformation, the associated baggage of playing a historical figure who is widely beloved (though not without controversy), I will be staggered if Darkest Hour does not pick up Best Actor in a Leading Role. That said, I was less impressed by Oldman’s Winston Churchill as I was by the other English character whose player is nominated. I know he’s got three already, and an award here would be something of a retirement gift for a man who declared this is his last role, but of the four performances I have seen here (sorry, Denzel, I’ll get to it), I would vote for DDL.
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq
In case you’ve been living in a cave, it’s awards season, a time when films are rewarded for being excellent or at least because they tick some subjective boxes about what counts as ‘quality’. Some film fans proclaim their absolute certainty of what should be rewarded, but I prefer to discuss the nominees without the assumption of superiority, although I certainly have my own views. I’ve written previously about radical and conservative choices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This year’s Best Picture nominees are a varied bunch, including typical and not so typical Oscar bait. Two topics that AMPAS loves are World War II and twentieth century American history (which obviously overlap). Darkest Hour and Dunkirk are both concerned with World War II, making them interesting companion pieces if rather obvious award choices. The same is true of The Post, which recounts a battle over freedom of the press. In previous years, the Best Picture gong would most likely go to one of these three, but times are a-changing.
Recent Oscar years have been less predictable and more radical, with mainstream genre fare and provocative subject matter getting a look in. The most radical entries in this year’s race are Get Out, a horror film about American racial politics, and The Shape of Water, a fantasy film mixed with Cold War tensions. Mixed in with these are two coming of age tales, Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird. Each of these has a distinct selling point: Lady Bird is about American girlhood, a rare enough topic in cinema let alone Oscar hopefuls; Call Me By Your Name is a love story between two men, suggesting that Moonlight’s surprise win last year may have been trailblazing.
Personally, I am torn over what I would like to win. Dunkirk was my favourite film last year, but it is such a safe choice I want something more radical to be named Best Picture. In the current climate of the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns, fine films honouring women warrant attention. Lady Bird would be a remarkable winner, but it seems like a fairly safe film that offers no particular challenge. Pleasing though it is to see a film about racial tensions, and indeed a horror film, up for Best Picture, Get Out failed to wow me. The Shape of Water is an exquisite piece of work that tells a story of alienation largely filtered through the figure of a woman, whose sexuality and independence are foregrounded without overemphasis. For these reasons, as well as its supernatural elements, I would like The Shape of Water to pick up Best Picture.
However, there are two more nominees. Phantom Thread’s presence is hard to understand politically – the film is historical which the Academy often likes, but its focus is on a rather abrasive relationship. Perhaps, shock horror, its nomination is because a majority of the Academy membership simply think Phantom Thread is a very well made film. This view could carry it to Best Picture, but I doubt it because, after its success at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri appears to be the lead contender to walk away with Best Picture.
Three Billboards is a somewhat typical contender, as it is a story about ‘America’. However, it is a far from rose-tinted portrait of modern America, as grief, resentment, racism, domestic abuse and terminal illness all jockey for position of primary misery. But, as is so often the case with award magnets, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film of its time. Some pundits argue that a key element to the election of Donald Trump was his regular reference to the ‘forgotten’ people of America. Whether Mr Trump’s concerns are genuine or not, his rhetoric in favour of these supposed ‘forgotten’ people was certainly prominent, and such people are the focus of Three Billboards. With its focus upon blue collar people, largely neglected by advances in technology and infrastructure, living in communities fractured by class and racial tensions, Three Billboards is very much a film about America at its current moment (despite being a largely British production). Furthermore, the film resonates with current debates over gender relations in the film industry and beyond, with Frances McDormand’s Mildred an inspiring and unconventional protagonist. For its insightful and unflinching, yet heartfelt and never mean-spirited capturing of the zeitgeist, it is my prediction that the Oscar for Best Picture will go to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Martin McDonagh’s third feature is touching, moving, darkly humorous and deeply tragic. This seemingly contradictory concoction is expressed through a beautifully measured and exquisitely designed portrait of small town America. Ebbing, Missouri is a town where everyone knows everyone and the major advertising agency, police station and popular bar are within walking distance of each other. Yet it is also a deeply troubled and fractured town. These fractures are foreshadowed in the opening shots, where DOP Ben Davis captures the dilapidated titular billboards, the frame sliced with the supporting struts much as the town is sliced through with mistrust and resentment. For the most part, the direction follows this unobtrusive approach, until a long take expresses the eruption of previously contained violence. This violence is key to its perpetrator, who like all the characters is superbly realised both by McDonagh’s merciless yet tender script, and an array of mighty performances from the entire cast. From incidental figures such as the pretty but oblivious Penelope (Samara Weaving) to supporting characters like James (Peter Dinklage) who cynically embraces the label of ‘town midget’, to the three leads of Mildred (Frances McDormand), Police Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), all the people in this tale are rounded, engaging and brilliantly flawed figures. Mistakes are made, judgements held and everyone is wracked with anger, pain and loss. Yet there is also compassion, care and love, both between characters and for the film’s world as a whole. For all its harshness and tragedy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a wonderfully human story, offering emotional peaks and troughs as well as a subtle socio-political commentary as it gives voice to a largely neglected part of America.