Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Oscars 2017: The supporting actors and the screenplays

Allison Janney, a likely Oscar winner for "I, Tonya"
Having previously looked at the technical categories, both big and small, we’re now moving on to the heavy hitters in this year’s Oscars:


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

NOMINEES
Call Me by Your Name—James Ivory
The Disaster Artist—Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber
Logan—Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green
Molly’s Game—Aaron Sorkin
Mudbound—Virgil Williams and Dee Rees

WILL WIN
Call Me by Your Name. Move along.

SHOULD WIN
Call Me by Your Name and Mudbound both told sensitive, character-driven stories, but they struggled to acquire momentum, and they were more memorable for their sensuous direction than their writing. The Disaster Artist was fun to watch in the moment, it ultimately felt like a banal vehicle designed to showcase its performers’ imitative talents. Logan, on the other hand, offered a bold and refreshingly novel approach to the stuck-in-a-rut superhero genre, stripping away Wolverine’s armor and revealing the wrecked warrior underneath. Still, I’ll go with Molly’s Game because I am a shill for Sorkin, and also because its writing is really good, give or take an overly reductive therapy scene.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Lady Macbeth—Alice Birch
Logan—Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green
Molly’s Game—Aaron Sorkin
War for the Planet of the Apes— Mark Bomback and Matt Reeves
Wonder Woman—Allan Heinberg

I don’t know if Lady Macbeth was technically eligible here—it’s only loosely based on a nineteenth-century Russian short story—but the movie is so damn good that I can’t resist highlighting it. Also, in case it’s unclear, this wasn’t exactly the greatest year for adapted screenplays. But hey, maybe that’s a good thing; perhaps studios will now be more adventurous in green-lighting original stories rather than recycling established properties. We can dream.

The Manifesto’s winner: Molly’s Game—Aaron Sorkin.


BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

NOMINEES
The Big Sick—Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
Get Out—Jordan Peele
Lady Bird—Greta Gerwig
The Shape of Water—Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—Martin McDonagh

WILL WIN
Woof. Besides The Big Sick, all of these are in the running (not coincidentally, all of them are Best Picture nominees). Still, I think this boils down to a race between Get Out and Three Billboards. The latter won at both the BAFTAs and the Golden Globes, while Get Out won at the Writers’ Guild… where Three Billboards wasn’t eligible. Get Out has the more original and provocative premise, which can score points with voters (see: Her, Eternal Sunshine, etc.). But Three Billboards has more flavorful dialogue, which also tends to play well with the Academy (see: Django Unchained, Juno). So, it’s basically a coin flip. I’ll take Three Billboards.

SHOULD WIN
These are all good movies with good screenplays, but only one of them is Lady Bird.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Dunkirk—Christopher Nolan
Get Out—Jordan Peele
Lady Bird—Greta Gerwig
The Post—Liz Hannah and Josh Singer
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—Martin McDonagh

I get that Dunkirk isn’t dialogue-driven, but the lack of recognition for its brilliant screenplay is still maddening. The writing in The Post pulls off a tricky balance: It’s whip-smart but never artificial.

The Manifesto’s winner: Lady Bird—Greta Gerwig.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

NOMINEES
Mary J. Blige—Mudbound
Allison Janney—I, Tonya
Lesley Manville—Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf—Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer—The Shape of Water

WILL WIN
A few months ago, this looked to be Metcalf’s award to lose. But then I, Tonya happened, and Janney has been a freight train ever since, landing the triple axel that is the BAFTAs, the SAG Awards, and the Golden Globes. No reason to pick against her here.

SHOULD WIN
Janney is thoroughly entertaining in I, Tonya, but it isn’t an especially complex or deep performance. Instead, for me this is a toss-up between Metcalf and Manville. The latter is marvelously icy, ruling with an iron fist without ever raising her voice. But Metcalf broke my heart, fashioning a character of warmth and prickliness and anguish and love.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Sofia Boutella—Atomic Blonde
Dafne Keen—Logan
Lesley Manville—Phantom Thread
Tatiana Maslany—Stronger
Laurie Metcalf—Lady Bird

Boutella brings startling heat and vulnerability to what’s otherwise a pulpy genre exercise. Keen is revelatory, eschewing cuteness and instead building a character through small gestures and a gradual softening of her steely façade. Maslany is quietly devastating, turning the token “supporting girlfriend” role into a full-fledged person with her own dreams and dashed hopes. (She’s arguably a co-lead in Stronger, but as we’ll see tomorrow, Best Actress is so ridiculously strong this year that I’m willing to bend some rules and slide her in here instead.)

The Manifesto’s winner: Laurie Metcalf—Lady Bird.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT: SECOND TIER
Hong Chau—Downsizing
Holly Hunter—The Big Sick
Allison Janney—I, Tonya
Zoe Kazan—The Big Sick
Millicent Simmonds—Wonderstruck

Hunter and Kazan both turn stock roles into flesh-and-blood characters. Chau single-handedly salvages Downsizing with her fiery forthrightness. In contrast, Simmonds is so good, she almost harms Wonderstruck; you spend all of the time away from her wishing that the film would return to her timeline.

Honorable mention: Ana de Armas—Blade Runner 2049; Andrea Riseborough—Battle of the Sexes; Tessa Thompson—Thor: Ragnarok.


BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

NOMINEES
Willem Dafoe—The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins—The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer—All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

WILL WIN
Rockwell. Normally, I’d think that he’d be in danger of splitting the vote with Harrelson, but he’s mirrored Janney with the precursor triple crown. Sorry, Florida Project fans.

SHOULD WIN
Rockwell is good in Three Billboards, gradually revealing new layers to what initially scans as a racist thug. But he isn’t even the best supporting actor in his own movie. That would instead be Harrelson, who delivers what may be a career-best performance, mingling rascally charm, weary wisdom, and quiet loyalty. It’s wonderful work from an actor who, in his late period, continues to locate unforeseen shadings of ability. (Also, a reminder that I haven’t seen All the Money in the World.)

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT
Willem Dafoe—The Florida Project
Idris Elba—Molly’s Game
Tom Hardy—Dunkirk
Woody Harrelson—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Chris Pine—Wonder Woman

Dafoe’s restraint only amplifies his character’s enormous decency. Elba nails Sorkin’s speechifying without becoming grandiose. Hardy conveys tremendous intelligence while barely opening his mouth. Pine is an absolute delight opposite Gal Gadot.

The Manifesto’s winner: Woody Harrelson—Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

THE MANIFESTO’S BALLOT: SECOND TIER
Daniel Craig—Logan Lucky
Dustin Hoffman—The Meyerowitz Stories
Michael Keaton—Spider-Man: Homecoming
Tracy Letts—Lady Bird
Bill Nighy—Their Finest

Craig has the time of his life in Logan Lucky. Hoffman’s career may be in trouble, but if this is the last significant performance he ever gives, it was a great one, sharp and bravely unsympathetic. Keaton is a sinister thrill. Letts complements Laurie Metcalf’s boisterous anger with sly wit and knowing sadness. Nighy is a treasure.

Honorable mention: Dave Bautista—Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; Adam Driver—Star Wars: The Last Jedi; Armie Hammer—Free Fire; Paul Walter Hauser—I, Tonya; Garrett Hedlund—Mudbound; Angus Macfadyen—The Lost City of Z; Pedro Pascal—The Great Wall; Robert Pattinson—The Lost City of Z.


Coming tomorrow: the lead actors.

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