During the lead up to this year’s Oscars on February 28th I will be covering a lot of the nominees for the upcoming Academy Awards. This will not be your usual Oscar primer, but in fact more of a “catching up to speed” series. Once a week I will be dissecting a few films in each installment. I will be going over what the nominees are, and what chances it stands to win. I am very excited to be doing this series for the third year in a row now. Along with the weekly articles, I will also be posting a mini episode of Contra Zoom going over the Best Picture nominees two at a time; in the last episode I discussed Mad Max: Fury Road and The Big Short. In the last post I talked about Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Straight Outta Compton and Shaun the Sheep Movie. This post I will be discussing Carol, Amy and Youth.
Carol was directed by Todd Haynes and was released on January 15th. The film has six nominations.
- Best Actress- Cate Blanchett
- Best Supporting Actress- Rooney Mara
- Best Adapted Screenplay- Phyllis Nagy
- Best Cinematography- Edward Lachman
- Best Costume Design- Sandy Powell
- Best Original Score- Carter Burwell
It was quite surprising that Carol, which got near unanimous praise from critics managed to score six nominations and still miss out on Best Picture, especially since outside of the two acting nominations it received nods from four different voting branches. It never would have been likely to win since Todd Haynes has not fared well with Academy voters, but this was probably his second most accessible film (after I’m Not Here the excellent and very weird Bob Dylan bio-pic). When prognosticators were making their picks for who would eventually end up nominated the forgone conclusion was that Blanchett, veteran of six previous nominations including two wins, was a near lock to win the damn thing again only two years after Blue Jasmine. As the race went on and more awards were doled out, Blanchett seems to be losing pace very quickly to Brie Larson and an underdog Saoirse Ronan. Blanchett turns in another delicate damaged performance that features stronger acting in looks than it does with actual words. Maybe voters feel the same way they do about Meryl Streep in that they know she will be back again in a few years with a potentially more award worthy film behind her.
At the time of the nominations I would have pegged Mara to ride the Blanchett train to gold herself; considering it is basically a co-lead performance (some might even argue it is the true lead role). If Blanchett wasn’t getting the rave reviews she was, or a different actress had the part, I would have never even considered Mara to be a frontrunner to win, but they seem to go part and parcel together. Now it seems like Alicia Vikander will walk away with the win with Mara and Kate Winslet being the dark horses, although any of the 5 are worthy of winning.
The story for the film is very sweet and while it is a common trope to start a film with the ending, you don’t realize where the story is at the start and by the time the scene repeats itself, it plays out very well making the tactic rewarding. Every scene and line has a deeper meaning, while staying grounded in the time period. The Adapted Screenplay category is so stacked it is hard to see if Carol has a shot. The Big Short is a strong contender to win Best Picture so they are the automatic leader in the category with the other Best Picture nominees Carol, Brooklyn and Room as dark horses.
Carol somehow managed to get a Best Cinematography nod, not that it was shot poorly or anything, but it is easily the least flashy of the nominated films in the group. Carol lacks the long uncut tracking shots like The Revenant, the deep seated focused shots like The Hateful Eight, the use of night vision and heat cameras like Sicario and the nonstop manic energy of Mad Max: Fury Road. All of these films have to be frontrunners before Carol even if it features delicate beauty.
The Academy loves period piece costumes, in the last 10 years every single winner has been a period piece from the early 20th century or before with one winner being a fantasy film (Alice in Wonderland). This bodes well for Carol, until you look at the nominees with 3 of the other films also being early 20th century films and whatever you want to call Mad Max: Fury Road. That said, Carol has some fantastic outfits worn by the two leading ladies showing the disparity between the glamorous Cate Blanchett and the lower class frugal Rooney Mara. Carol is a clear contender as it has tons of elegant costumes with Cinderella being a close competitor for the award.
The score for the film is as delicate as the movie itself while having strong undertones of a thriller and the excitement of love and lust and always bubbling underneath everything. The music isn’t as overt as some of the other nominees and definitely isn’t iconic, but it achieves what it sets out to. Carter Burwell is a master of knowing when to stand out and when to stay in the background as he has worked extensively with the Coen Brothers. Carol’s score actually stands the best chance after the costumes to walk away with an award, but they will have to get through The Hateful Eight who has the momentum and Star Wars nipping at both of their heels.
Amy was directed by Asif Kapadia and was released on July 3rd. The film has one nomination.
- Best Documentary
Amy is a unique film that captures the life and death of singer Amy Winehouse told solely through the use of home recordings and interview footage. There are no shots of after the fact interviews about Amy from her family members, friends and musical collaborators, but there is some voice over narrations explaining scenarios that are already played out in captured footage. You can see firsthand how Winehouse was basically doomed from the start, from terrible parenting to significant others and management that would enable her addictions. The true gut punch moment comes from a moment when an early collaborator of hers tries to stage an intervention to get her to go to rehab and gets all of her friends on board and Winehouse agrees she will go on one condition, which is if her estranged father who only recently came back into her life thinks she should go. The elder Winehouse thinks very little of the idea of rehab and sees a career that should come before her personal problems and tells her she doesn’t need it. This was the moment to save her life as it all went downhill after that confrontation and instead of being able to enjoy new music today from Winehouse we can look back on the lyrics from Rehab and not think it is so funny anymore.
“They tried to make me go to rehab but I said, ‘No, no, no.’/Yes, I’ve been black but when I come back you’ll know, know, know/I ain’t got the time and if my daddy thinks I’m fine/He’s tried to make me go to rehab but I won’t go, go, go”
The documentary is a startling and sad look into a unreasonably maligned performer and an easy butt of jokes, the unique way of telling her story from the mid 2000’s when cameras were only starting to be used in everyday life like they are today allows the viewers to become voyeurs in her life, an ultimate downfall in her life. The film is an early frontrunner to win, with The Look of Silence as a close dark horse and maybe even Cartel Land playing the spoiler role.
Youth was directed by Paolo Sorrentino and was released on December 4th. The film has one nomination.
- Best Original Song David Lang for Simple Song #3
Youth is Paolo Sorrentino’s follow up to his Best Foreign Language film The Great Beauty back in 2013 and only his second English language film after 2011’s This Must Be the Place. The film more or less is similar thematically to The Great Beauty as it deals with age, death and waxing poetically about it in old man fashion with Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel in place for Toni Servillo, not that any of this matters as we are here to talk about the song in question. Caine plays Fred Ballinger a classical composer who refuses to play his most famous song when he is asked to perform for Prince Phillip’s birthday, a song that is his personal favourite. Not to spoil too much but you finally get to hear the song at the end of the film with Sumi Jo the famous soprano singer doing the heavy work transporting us with a very passionate moment of Ballinger’s youth. The song itself is performed by a full orchestra and is everything we imagine it would be after hearing snippets of it as played by a young boy learning to play the violin throughout the film. The song itself might not seem all that special as it truly needs to be heard in context of the film for full effect. Unfortunately since voters are most likely only going to listen to the song and not judge it based on its importance to the film, it has next to no shot at winning with Lady Gaga and Sam Smith’s songs being the front runners and The Weeknd’s as a dark horse.