The Oscars are on Sunday, and it’s all too easy to be pessimistic and pick apart the movies or artists we feel didn’t really deserve to be nominated. Instead, let’s look at the choices that Oscar actually got right this year. Which 2019 nominees are truly worthy of the recognition?
Of all the nominees for Best Actor, the man who truly inhabits his part is NOT Christian Bale, who certainly looks like Dick Cheney, but by the end of Vice I thought he sounded more like Batman. Nor is it Rami Malek, who does Freddie Mercury proud in the climactic Live Aid concert sequence in Bohemian Rhapsody, but doesn’t exhibit enough nuance to counter his flamboyance.
No, the man who most embodies the real-life character he portrays and not only deserves his Oscar nod, but also deserves to take home the gold statuette is Viggo Mortensen. As Tony Vallelonga, the New York Italian bouncer-turned-chauffeur who gets an eye-opening education in racial injustice and tolerance while accompanying a virtuoso black musician (Mahershala Ali) on a 1962 concert tour through the Deep South in Green Book, Mortensen gives hands-down the best performance of the year.
Never once does Mortensen overdo his portrayal. On the contrary, he underplays to perfection, expressing Tony’s initial bigotry, subsequent outrage, ethnic humor, insecurities, ignorance, sympathy, and enlightenment without a hint of affectation. It’s a rich, funny, moving, altogether human role that could easily slip into a caricature, but Mortensen is always authentic – so much so, his own recognizable persona disappears. His chemistry with Ali (who is also first-rate and deserves to win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar) is excellent, but Mortensen’s work easily stands on its own. It’s not a transformative part like Bale’s or Malek’s, and Oscar loves those, so Mortensen probably won’t win (which will disappoint me greatly), but he’s been nominated twice before, so the time seems ripe to finally honor this highly respected, under-the-radar actor who rarely gets his due. Here’s looking at you, Viggo.
The Academy Awards this year seem to be trying to do the worst possible job. Remember that hubbub in August about creating an award for “Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film”? That was just the beginning of this year’s awards circus. However, the Academy has gotten some nominations spot-on. My favorite of this year’s crop has to be Minding the Gap for Best Documentary Feature.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that Spike Lee got his nod for directing (FINALLY), that the trio of ladies in The Favourite all got recognition, and that Richard E. Grant has now shot to the top of my list for fantasy drinking buddies, but those were all largely expected. If first time director Bing Liu hadn’t gotten nominated, there would be no outcry or chest thumping. Nevertheless, Minding the Gap is one of the best documentaries of the last decade, and for once the Academy didn’t let an actual gem escape its notice, despite the lack of box office returns or a big marketing campaign. The documentary is so much more than the premise promises, and shows such raw humanity that it’s hard to imagine how a film like this can come together and still feel so effortless. Liu asks hard questions of his closest friends, and has such a keen eye for a subject he himself is enrapt within, it’s amazing he was able to maintain a critical eye. There’s no major reason that the Academy should have paid attention to the little doc, but it did, and for once the nomination went to the most qualified film.
M. Enois Duarte
I was genuinely surprised by how much I fell in love with Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born. I was not only impressed by Cooper’s confidence as a first-time director and talent behind the camera, but I was really taken aback by Mathew Libatique’s stunning cinematography. The way he captured the hyperkinetic energy of the fictional stage performances with the beautiful balance of hyperbolized primaries and the pitch-black, velvety shadows is simply gorgeous. But I also love how he then photographs the romance of the two leads with soft pastels and warm, welcoming earth tones, reflecting their love affair as though it’s a dreamlike fairy tale distinctly different and nearly the opposite of who these sad people are on stage. Although I admire and also appreciate the photography in the other four nominated films, I believe Libatique’s nominations is right on the money and deserving of the accolades.
The category I most enjoy the (friendly) competition for is Best Documentary Feature. While there were some surprising snubs like Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and Shirkers, that category still has a pretty great selection to root for. Free Solo is epic, a climbing movie that goes well beyond its nature-porn roots and tells one of the more fascinating relationship stories of the year. Minding the Gap is a terrific look at skate culture mixed with toxic relationships and shows a real burgeoning talent. Hale County This Morning, This Evening is a beautiful and poetic work that shows how experimental form can also be immensely moving. RBG is a bit underwhelming, and Of Fathers and Sons is the odd man out, but whatever takes the trophy home will be a moment the world’s eyes focus on theatrical documentaries, and that’s always a happy thing.
I have to admit that I’ve only seen about half the films that appear to stand out via multiple major nominations. Of these, Black Panther and The Favourite suit me. The nomination for Writing (Original Screenplay) for The Favourite seems right on. I also like Rachel Weisz’s Supporting Actress nomination (among the trio of acting nominations from the film).
Other important movies that were less embraced by the Academy but at least have deserving nominations include Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Animated Feature), Mary Queen of Scots (Costume Design, Makeup and Hairstyling), and First Man (Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects).
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
So much of the success of First Man is owed to its production and set design, and Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas richly deserve their Academy Award nomination in that category.
Though it’s not the most obvious thing to lead with in this sort of conversation, I appreciate that the film’s recreation of 1960s suburban mundanity is as painstakingly accurate as its lunar modules. There’s something fascinating about that collision of the familiar with the extraordinary; these many people have devoted years of their lives to a dangerous, seemingly impossible mission, and yet they live in cookie-cutter houses with ugly wood paneling in wholly unremarkable subdivisions. The design here quite literally grounds them as characters, efficiently conveying that they’re not just pioneers but are people.
It’s also deeply felt that so much of the film’s imagery was captured in-camera. While digital tools are still very much in play, including in the 3D printing behind the many miniatures, there’s just something so immediate and tactile about what I’m seeing on-screen. The meticulous recreation of then-bleeding-edge 1960s technology – from the violently spinning aerotrim to the massive banks of switches and dials inside the spacecrafts’ cockpits – makes their accomplishments feel that much more remarkable.
And the reproduction of the lunar landing itself… ! I’ve really enjoyed reading interviews with production designer Nathan Crowley, who describes how the surface of the moon wasn’t recreated on a soundstage or in a render bay in Palo Alto, but by sculpting some five acres of a rock quarry in Georgia. I can’t begin to imagine the time and effort that went into handcrafting craters and individual rocks, but the resulting visual impact shows that it was well-worth it.
The only of this year’s Best Picture nominees I’ve bothered to watch is Black Panther, which I didn’t think much of, so I have no skin in that game. As a Netflix subscriber, I really have no excuse for not seeing Roma yet, except lack of interest. I’m more likely to make time for BlacKkKlansman or The Favourite first, but just haven’t gotten to them yet.
I’m much more invested in the Best Animated Feature race. Wes Anderson’s delightful Isle of Dogs is not just my favorite animated film of 2018, but my favorite film of the year full-stop. Unfortunately, I don’t expect it to win, but I’ve heard really good things about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and won’t feel too bad if that beats it.
Are you satisfied with any of the Oscar nominations this year? Which ones?