Ah, the Oscars. That magical night where we admire the gorgeous gowns, reward the incredible performances and hard work of everyone involved in making movies, and maybe accidentally give an award to a guy who maybe sexually harassed some women (cough cough, Casey Affleck). Last week the Academy Award nominations were announced and I instantly made my own decisions about which movies deserved which awards. Here are my Oscar picks (at least for the big categories. I’m sorry to say I didn’t watch any of the nominees for Best Foreign Language or Best Short Film. Sorry!)
Best Picture: Get Out
Admittedly this was a tough decision, because 2017 may have been a garbage time for politics but it was a great time for movies. I was torn between this and Lady Bird and The Shape of Water and The Post, but in the end writer-director Jordan Peele’s fantastic horror film is a clear winner. Artistically, it was stunning, especially considering this is Peele’s first work as a director. But perhaps more importantly, it turned out to be exactly the kind of social commentary about race that the US needed right now, reminding well-meaning liberals that, as it turns out, saying you would vote for a third term for Obama does not excuse you from racism.
Best Director: Jordan Peele, Get Out OR Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
I’m torn! Between two debut directors! Who both did an incredible job! Sorry, I’m just so overwhelmed that two of the best movies of the year were made by NEW directors! I seriously can’t decide between these two. Peele did an incredible, amazing job on Get Out (as previously stated) by pushing his audience to be more thoughtful about race (especially his white, liberal audience members) but Gerwig’s work on Lady Bird was also marvelous. She got to the heart of the kind of coming-of-age story that is so rarely given to teenage girls, and did it with kindness, sensitivity, and honesty.
Best Actor: Daniel Kaluuya as Chris Washington in Get Out
Unlike some of the other actors up for awards, this is Daniel Kaluuya’s first major film role. Indeed, most of us only ever saw him in that one episode of Black Mirror (Fifteen Million Merits, which in all fairness was a great episode.) This was a bit of a toss-up between Kaluuya and Daniel Day-Lewis, who was up for his performance in Phantom Thread. However, I’m giving this one to Kaluuya, because while Day-Lewis has had decades to perfect his craft, Kaluuya pulled out a stunning performance from a still-young career, perfectly capturing both the big moments and the smaller, more careful touches. In particular, the scene where Chris interacts with a bunch of rich white people trying to show off how “down” they are with black people is a great vehicle for Kaluuya’s talents.
Best Actress: Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito in The Shape of Water
You know that saying about how Ginger Rogers had to do everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels? Sally Hawkins did everything other actors did this year, but with no dialogue and acting against a CGI fish-man. And still, she pulled out one of the most beautiful, delicate performances I’ve ever seen, breathing so much life into her character that I’m just awe-struck. That’s not to say I wasn’t impressed by Margot Robbie in I, Tonya or Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird, but Hawkins just did such an amazing job that I have to give this one to her. She made that movie. It’s quite hard to convince an audience to stay on board when you’re trying to sell them the love story between a woman and a fish-man, and I don’t think it could have been done without her.
Best Supporting Actor: Richard Jenkins as Giles in The Shape of Water
Oh, speaking of stunning performances in The Shape of Water that helped me buy the whole inter-species love story, can we talk about Richard Jenkins here? Seriously, that man did so well that this category wasn’t even a contest for me. Jenkins’s performance as Elisa’s neighbor, a closeted illustrator who helps her care for the fish-man, is heart-wrenching and tender, showing such a full range of emotion and depth as he navigated between his wants and his realities, and as he tried to be kind and practical. In particular, his failed flirtations with a pie-salesman are so heartbreaking I almost cried. I will give a special shout-out though to Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty in All The Money in The World, if only because he managed to do a pretty good job under extremely short notice, and because his performance proves that you can recast someone from a project if they turn out to be a predator.
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney as LaVona Golden in I, Tonya
I liked the performances of Laurie Metclaf in Lady Bird and Octavia Spencer in The Shape of Water, but I don’t think either of them compare to Allison Janney’s turn as one of the worst stage mothers in history. Janney’s performance captures a cruelty and an anger that capture the movie’s themes of abuse and poverty perfectly. LaVona’s twisting cruelty toward her daughter is hard to watch, especially because Janney does such a good job with the material. Her voice, her violence, her chain-smoking, her expressions of near-regret before deciding to not apologize to Tonya, every detail is done to perfection.
Best Original Screenplay: Jordan Peele, Get Out
Did you think I was done heaping praise onto Jordan Peele and Get Out? Nope! I have a lot more to heap on! The script was absolutely terrific. From the racist logic behind the “Coagula” procedure to Rod’s iconic ending line (“I’m TS-Motherfuckin’-A. We handle shit. Consider this situation fuckin’ handled.) to that whole scene at the party where everyone wants to tell the black guy why being black is just so hip right now, everything was pitch-perfect, especially considering that most of Peele’s work before was in the realm of comedy. He did a fantastic job.
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Molly’s Game (based on the book of the same name by Molly Bloom)
Look, it’s Aaron Sorkin. It’s pretty hard to compete with one of the most talented screenwriters of our time, and I do not think I’m exaggerating. I do think Sorkin was helped by having some absolute bang-up performances from his two leads, Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba, who spit out sharp-fire lines in that classic Sorkin style. He took an already exciting story (poker! Money! Celebrities! Russian mobsters!) and even made the less exciting parts (courtrooms! Legal terms!) and made them just as heart-racing and tense as the rest of the film. And almost every line uttered by Chastain’s character, Molly Bloom, was perfection.