Sunday , 25 February 2018

Horror makes big splash with Oscar

2017 was a benchmark year for the movie industry. With the top three box office earners – Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman – all featuring female leads, the year may very well be remembered as the Year of the Woman, in more ways than one. Another welcome development was the immense success of the horror genre. From early breakout hits, like Get Out and Split to the behemoth Stephen King adaptation, It, horror reached new and impressive heights. While horror has consistently proven to be one of the more profitable genres in the industry, critical acclaim has often eluded it, at least when it comes to award season. But that has changed in 2017. The Academy Award nominations were recently announced and one horror film led the pack with another racking up several more of its own. Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water received a whopping 13 nominations, one shy of the record, while Jordan Peele’s Get Out was honored with four in the major categories.

Though films in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres quite often manage to get a number of Academy Award nominations, they are usually relegated to the more technical categories, i.e., visual and sound effects, etc. What’s so impressive this year is that these two horror films – and make no mistake, they are horror films no matter what anyone might try to say differently – received nods in the major categories of acting, writing, directing, and best film. The Shape of Water, besides being nominated for Best Film, received three acting nods – Sally Hawkins as Best Actress, Octavia Spencer as Best Supporting Actress, and Richard Jenkins as Best Supporting Actor. In addition to nods for Best Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Costumes, Musical Score and Sound Editing and Mixing, Guillermo del Toro was included in the Best Director category. (Read the Gore 4 review of The Shape of Water.)

Get Out managed to get past several barriers in being honored this award season – that of it being a horror film, and also having been released so early in the year, February to be exact. Plus, Jordan Peele is a rare first-time director nominee and only the sixth African American to be honored in this category (none have won, and Spike Lee, incredibly, has yet to crack that top five here). Along with his Best Director nod, Peele was honored for his Original Screenplay as well, the film itself was nominated for Best Film, and star Daniel Kaluuya was nominated as Best Actor. Personally, it would have been a real treat to see LilRey Howery slip through in the Supporting Actor category, as he stole the show (read the Gore 4 review of Get Out), but this was a tough category – really, all four acting categories had a plethora of outstanding performances to pick from (Michael Stuhlbarg deserved to be honored as well for his terrific work in THREE of the Best Picture nominees, which may be the first time that has ever occurred).

Other genre films which snagged multiple nominations included Blade Runner 2049, with 5 and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, with 4. Those two joined Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2, Kong: Skull Island and War for the Planet of the Apes for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The Best Makeup category, which has seen wins for several horror films in the past (An American Werewolf in London, The Fly, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Wolfman), shut out the genre this time. Interestingly, the amphibious sea creature in The Shape of Water, so effective in its execution, failed to be recognized in either the visual effects or make-up categories. Alas, motion-capture and man-in-suit performances failed to capture any acting nominations, such as Andy Serkis (Caesar in War for Planet of the Apes), Doug Jones (The Shape of Water) or even Terry Notary as Kong. Not unexpected for sure, but perhaps the Academy should start thinking about adding another category so these amazing performers who inject so much into their roles can be recognized for their imaginative work. While the critically-acclaimed comic book film, Logan, got the rare Adapted Screenplay nomination, it too, was unable to snag nods for Hugh Jackman or Patrick Stewart. Also, it is rather astounding that the third biggest film of the year, and one of the most loved by the critics, Wonder Woman, failed to receive a single nomination in any category. While it was great to see Greta Gerwig be the rare female to be nominated as Best Director (for her fantastic Lady Bird), surely Patti Jenkins’ work in bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen was a much more monumental achievement. While it may have been a comic book movie (The Dark Knight) that paved the way for the expanded Best Film category, they still apparently have a ways to go before they’re seen as Oscar-worthy films.

Now, what chances do any of these genre films have of winning in any of the major categories? Well, Gary Oldman as Best Actor for playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour is all but a foregone conclusion. (Another incredible performance(s), from earlier in the year, that never got any awards momentum, was James McAvoy’s multi-personalities in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split.) While Frances McDormand would appear to be the frontrunner for Three Billboards, Lady Bird‘s wonderful Saoirse Ronan could surprise. But Sally Hawkins could charm voters as well with her original, heartfelt performance as the mute cleaner in Shape. As for Octavia Spencer, a previous winner for 2012’s The Help,  she will undoubtedly be applauding when Allison Janney’s name is called for her role in I, Tonya. With Get Out and The Shape of Water vying for the prize for Best Original Screenplay, that’s a strong category, with Lady Bird, The Big Sick and Three Billboards also in there. Whatever film doesn’t get honored in other categories may see recognition here. For Best Director, Guillermo del Toro has already won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award. If he were to win the DGA prize, you’d have to consider him the odds-on favorite, especially with Three Billboards director, Martin McDonagh, somewhat surprisingly left out of this category. Also, if del Toro were to win the Best Director Academy Award, it would be the fourth win in five years for a Mexican filmmaker (Alejandro Inarritu – The Revenant (2015), Birdman (2014) and Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity (2013). Clearly, our friends south of the border are sending us their best and brightest filmmakers and films. For del Toro, it would be much deserved, as he has been one of the most visionary, imaginative filmmakers for quite some time. Now does The Shape of Water actually stand a chance of winning the ultimate statue? The last horror films to be nominated for Best Picture were The Black Swan (2010), The Sixth Sense (1999), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Jaws (1975) and The Exorcist (1973), with Lambs winning the Big Five – Best Actor, Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay and Film. With the most nominations of any film by far, del Toro’s film seems to be in great shape (pun intended) to take home the grand prize. One of his past films, Pan’s Labyrinth, won 3 Oscars (for cinematography, art direction and makeup) back in 2007. This year, his masterful The Shape of Water may indeed see several artists make their way to the stage to give their acceptance speeches.

For those remembering last year’s award ceremony, Academy producers have insured us that steps have been taken to avoid any controversy and mix-ups like last time when La-La Land was initially awarded Best Picture instead of actual winner, Moonlight. The 90th Academy Awards, hosted once again by Jimmy Kimmel, airs Sunday, March 4 on ABC (opposite a brand new Walking Dead, btw-get your DVRs ready!)

— write-up by Brian de Castro

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