Tuesday , 28 March 2023

And the winner is….Horror!

The 90th Academy Awards were held on Sunday, and it was a night that saw many important issues continue to be discussed. There was the push for more diversity in Hollywood, from women to minorities, both in front of and behind the camera. There was the topic of immigration, appropriate for a ceremony that has such an international flair. And there was the bringing to the forefront the pervasive problem of harassment in the workplace, and everyplace for that matter, with the Time’s Up and Me Too movements. This issue is especially connected to the movie industry with so many actresses speaking out, and former Hollywood heavyweight, Harvey Weinstein, the poster boy for everyone’s outrage. Amidst all the speeches and calls to action and jokes as well, there were many awards handed out, with one clear winner – horror. One of the genres most ignored when it comes to the Academy Awards (along with comedy), horror had one of its most successful night at the Oscars, with Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical monster movie, The Shape of Water bringing home a total of four statuettes, including the big prizes of Best Picture and Best Director for del Toro. In addition, Jordan Peele’s groundbreaking directorial debut, Get Out, earned him the top honor for Best Original Screenplay. (Read our reviews of The Shape of Water and Get Out.) While horror films have been nominated, and won Academy Awards in the past, from The Exorcist to Jaws to Aliens, they’re generally in the more technical categories like visual effects, sound and score. Occasionally, a standout performance will break through, going all the way back to Fredric March’s win in 1932 for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to Kathy Bates’s 1991 win in Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery. All in all, this year marked the best showing for horror since The Silence of the Lambs won the big 5 (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Adapted Screenplay) back in 1992.

Heading into the night, none of these wins were assured, though The Shape of Water did have the strength of the most overall nominations, thirteen (one shy of the record), behind it. Guillermo del Toro had also won best director at most of the other award ceremonies, including the coveted DGA award, and the Golden Globe. The previous night, at the 33rd Film Independent Spirit Awards, Jordan Peele won the best director award, with Get Out also winning best feature. But no matter what momentum you have going into the big night, nothing is guaranteed until your name is actually read off the envelope, and as referenced throughout the evening, maybe not even then. (In a nice touch, last year’s Best Picture presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who had been given the wrong envelope and thusly announced La La Land the winner over actual winner, Moonlight, were asked back to get it right this time.)

In addition to its wins for Best Picture (which go to producers del Toro and J. Miles Dale) and Best Director, The Shape of Water also received the top awards for its meticulous Production Design (Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau) and Alexandre Desplat’s darkly romantic Original Score. Though it lost the best prizes for Cinematography and Visual Effects, those awards deservedly went to another genre film, the epic sci-fi sequel, Blade Runner 2049. For the esteemed cameraman, Roger Deakins, this was his first win in 14 nominations, going back to 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption. As for Guillermo del Toro, the visionary filmmaker who has given us Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim, he becomes the third Mexican-born director to win the Academy Award for helming a picture in the past five years, actually accounting for 4 of the last 5 wins, with Alejandro González Iñárritu winning in 2016 and 2015 for The Revenant and Birdman, respectively, and Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity in 2014. It truly is a remarkable feat, and in light of past disparaging remarks made by a certain non-leader, a firm middle finger to all those who look down upon our neighbors to the South. The creative work being displayed by these Mexican filmmakers should serve as inspiration to us all.

With Jordan Peele’s recognition for writing his racially-charged horror hit, Get Out, he becomes the first African-American to win the award for Best Original Screenplay. With the success of Get Out last year, and the current blockbuster status of Marvel’s Black Panther, there’s a sense that the tide is changing for the better, not just in the movies, but in our culture as well. While Wonder Woman‘s massive success was completely ignored by the Academy Awards this year, it will be difficult for them to similarly disregard the juggernaut that is Black Panther for next year’s awards. With the exception of Heath Ledger’s posthumous Supporting Actor win for 2008’s The Dark Knight, and a surprising Adapted Screenplay nomination this year for Logan, comic book movies, though hugely popular and successful at the box office, have received little Oscar love. Perhaps Black Panther can finally break that hard to crack window.

While the night was a major statement to the importance of women, minorities and immigrants to cinema, and the many contributions they make, it was also a testament that age is not a limiting factor, but rather just a number. James Ivory, at 89, became the oldest person ever to win an Oscar, for his adapted screenplay for Call Me By Your Name. Christopher Plummer, 87, was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for All the Money in the World, a role that came to him when the original actor, Kevin Spacey, was cut out of the film by director Ridley Scott over sexual misconduct allegations made against him. France’s Agnès Varda, at 89, was nominated for Best Documentary Feature for Faces Places, and though she lost in that category, she had previously been given an honorary Oscar in November. And two actresses who belied their ages and looked amazing, Rita Moreno, 86 and Eva Marie Saint, 93, God bless them, served as presenters. A separate shout out must go to Gary Oldman,  one of our greatest actors, finally winning a much deserved Oscar. His range as an actor is unparalleled, utterly convincible as a villain in The Professional and Air Force One, heroic in The Dark Knight trilogy as Commissioner Gordon and as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter franchise, and having succeeded portraying such figures as Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald, Count Dracula, and now, his award-winning turn as Winston Churchill.

On a side note, though having everything to do with horror, during the In Memoriam section, while George A. Romero was shown as Eddie Vedder sang a soulful version of Tom Petty’s “Room at the Top”, his contemporary in the field of horror, Tobe Hooper, was regrettably omitted. It’d be difficult to argue one’s inclusion over the other. Both made landmark films, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, respectively, that have influenced many who have followed, from the likes of Rob Zombie to Jordan Peele himself. While we realize the Academy can’t include everyone in the tribute part of the show, it’s worth mentioning here the contribution Hooper made on the film landscape. (You can read our memorials for Romero and Hooper for more.)

Now what do the awards for The Shape of Water and Get Out mean for the future of horror films? Well, Guillermo del Toro has pretty much stayed withing the genre his whole career, and there’s no reason to think he will leave his love of monster movies and other fantastic tales behind. Jordan Peele, though failing to mention his fondness for horror films during his Academy Award speech (he did so at the Spirit Awards), will undoubtedly stay within the genre for a long time to come. And both these filmmakers and others should have an easier time getting studios to provide the funds needed to bring their imaginative stories to life. Horror films are generally made for far less money than other types of films, yet they bring in sizable dollars. As last year’s Get Out and It showed, horror films can reign supreme at the box office with no major stars, something few other genres can accomplish. While flat-out frightfests have their place in cinema, this year’s winners prove that horror can be socially relevant as well. Upcoming horror releases already receiving significant buzz are John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place and Ari Aster’s Hereditary. While horror will no doubt see continued success in theaters, time will tell whether that will translate to winning more awards, or relegate the genre once again to an afterthought by the Academy. Let’s hope it’s the former.

— by Brian de Castro