The Alpha Primitive

Film reviews, essays, commentary and sundry writings

Oscar Watch 2018 Part 1: The Golden Globes

Welcome to 2018 folks!

And thanks to last night’s Golden Globes telecast, welcome to the official kick-off of awards season. Sure, critic’s groups have been releasing their winners for the better part of a month (my group, the Online Film Critics Society, chose Get Out for our top honor), but the Globes present the first instance where the concept of awarding the best movies (and TV...I guess) of the previous year solidifies in the minds of those not connected to the industry who don’t spend the majority of their waking hours obsessing over anything and everything movies.

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Of course, as we always must do when discussing the Globes, there are caveats to consider when analyzing what the winners and losers mean to awards season as a whole (and when we say “awards season as a whole,” understand that to mean “The Oscars”). The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is a weird, insular group of people who often make decisions based on the quality of the parties thrown for them and the quality of the stars starring in them. This is what leads to The Tourist getting multiple nominations back in 2010, and the somewhat improbable situation of All the Money in the World receiving three nominations (including Best Director!) when there was no possible way the film could have actually been finished when it was screened for the HFPA. And as always, the choice to split between “Drama” and “Comedy/Musical” further muddies the waters coming out of the Globes, as we have two movies and six actors/actresses that have received awards.

Now, with all that being said, what do we know moving forward?

Well, certainly a few things. It’s often easy to over-correct for this, but so often these award granting bodies want their winners to say something. That can take various forms, whether it’s the Lifetime Achievement style Oscars given to actors or directors (see also: Scorsese for The Departed, Jack Lemmon for Save the Tiger, Morricone for The Hateful Eight, etc etc, which is why you just might be able to bank on Roger Deakins finally winning for Blade Runner 2049), the desire to pat themselves on the back for Hollywood being such an awesome force in the world (The Artist, Argo, and to a lesser extent, La La Land), or the need to say something about the state of the world with their winners, as you could argue with the victory of Moonlight in the year following the Oscars So White controversy.

That last one, that’s the one we need to pay attention to this year. The Globes made that pretty clear.

The focus on the Golden Globes this year was undoubtedly on women in Hollywood, stemming from the impossible to ignore #metoo movement that shook the industry in the wake of Harvey Weinstein finally paying the price for decades of abusive power over women, so much of which seemed to be tied into Weinstein’s ability to campaign for, and win, major awards like Oscars and Golden Globes. You can see in the films and TV shows that won big, all of them have a female-fronted perspective, whether it’s The Handmaid's Tale and Big Little Lies on the TV side, or Lady Bird, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri on the film side. Three Bilbboards was the biggest winner of the night, grabbing four total awards for Sam Rockwell, McDonagh’s script, Frances McDormand and Best Drama (the more prestigious of the Globes' split categories, giving it the most momentum out of the gate as we rumble through the guild awards on the way to the Academy closing the season on March 4.

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And looking at some of the previously announced guild nominations, the path forward for Three Billboards seems to be coalescing. It’s got a potential big night coming at the SAG awards, with McDormand expected to continue her romp through the season toward almost certain Oscar gold. There is potential for Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson to split the vote, which could lead to early favorite Willem Dafoe to sneak the prize for his work in The Florida Project, but his star seems to be fading perhaps due to the comparatively early release date for that film being swept away by the deluge of November/December releases that are fresher in the minds of voters. It’s easy to see Three Billboards taking 3 major awards from the SAGs, perhaps the night after winning at the PGAs to cement its momentum leading up to the final stretch. 

And Three Billboards does have timeliness on its side, with the story of a woman seeking retribution for the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter resonating well with the second half of 2017’s strikes at the long-entrenched patriarchy. It’s arguably a better fit in that vein than some of the other female-focused contenders; Lady Bird certainly has its own momentum now, and it’s entirely possible Natalie Portman will have successfully shamed the Academy (and possibly the DGA) into giving Greta Gerwig a nomination for Best Director, but that film doesn’t play the abuse card the way Three Billboards does. The Shape of Water is perhaps a little closer, but it too isn’t as directly tied into the very specific zeitgeist on display at the Golden Globes in the same way. Whether this translates to a much larger and more diverse voting body is what remains to be seen.

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That leaves some of the other social justice/hot button issue films perhaps on the outside looking in. In this case, I’m speaking of The Post and Get Out, two films that have each been labeled as important pieces of art in the Trump era. Get Out may have been made before Trump was inaugurated (or even elected, for that matter), but it perfectly encapsulates the raging fire of race relations in the modern day that has been stoked by Trump’s campaign and further embracing of all manner of authoritarian, white supremacist actions since taking office. Granted, Get Out is more concerned with a very specific sort of white liberal racism than the more traditional KKK style, one predicated on hiding prejudices behind an exterior of hollow inclusivity, but its racial sentiments feel undeniably prescient considering how the rest of 2017 ended up playing out. Still, Get Out is definitely a rogue presence in the awards field, a low budget genre movie (horror genre, no less, which hasn’t sniffed awards consideration in any real way since The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 unless you want to count Natalie Portman’s win for Black Swan) released in February by Blumhouse pictures by a first-time director. Get Out receiving a Best Picture nomination at all would be a monumental moment. But we’re living in a world where Moonlight could unseat La La Land for the big prize, so anything seems a lot more possible than it used to.

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The Post is more of a traditional Hollywood bit of social activism (how could it not be with Steven Spielberg behind the helm and Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep above the title?), pitting journalists simply trying to uncover the truth against a corrupt government hellbent on shutting them down. In this case, it’s the Nixon administration trying to silence the Washington Post after suing the New York Times for the partial publication of the Pentagon Papers (a series of studies about the government’s less than honest history leading up to the Vietnam war), but the implications and allegories are clear. The silhouette of Nixon barking over the phone to destroy the free press could quite simply be another autocratic Republican executive branch leader. It’s full of famous people (famous white people, no less) directed by a well-established and respected director with a decidedly anti-Trump stance. In any other year, it would be the easy front-runner.

But The Post won nothing at the Globes. Get Out won nothing at the Globes. The movies that did win at the Globes were of the female-led persuasion. We don’t necessarily know what that means going forward. We don’t know how much the voting body of the HPFA (less than 100) could take into account the fact that the Globes were the first major awards ceremony of the post-Weinstein era, and that the women in the room would be arriving clad in black in solidarity and support for a revolution that was a long time coming. Clearly the HFPA saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri as the standard-bearer for such a time. It’s certainly not the perfect option for that, having been subject to all sorts of criticism from its treatment of race relations to its arguable redemption arc for arguably its most despicable character to its stereotypical look at small town America (a movie made by an Irish director about the flaws of America seems like it could get an extra boost from a voting body like the HFPA). Three Billboards isn’t a perfect movie. It didn’t make my top ten of 2017, though it did find a space in the 11-20 block. I’m not sure it has the legs to make a run all the way to the Academy in March, especially with something like The Post (which hasn’t even opened yet in a lot of markets) so capable to making up the gap. And you could even lump The Post in with the cadre of films about women striking back at the patriarchy through Kay Graham’s willful choice to ignore the advice of her (male) lawyers and board members and publish the Pentagon Papers.

The rest of January is a busy month. By the time the calendar changes, we’ll know who SAG and the PGA have chosen, with the DGA award announced on Groundhog Day. Who knows what the race will look like by that time? I'll be sure to take a look then.

EARLY GUESSES FOR THE BIG OSCAR CATEGORIES:

Best Picture: The Post
Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Best Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Supporting Actor: Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project (with Rockwell gaining fast)
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Best Director: Guillermo Del Toro, The Shape of Water