An X-Men tale gets nominated for an Academy Award: Is Oscar slowly catching up?

The biggest news of yesterday’s Oscar nominations was in the adapted screenplay category.  Writers Scott Frank, Michael Green, and director James Mangold were nominated for their script for Logan, the film picked as last year’s best picture in our annual wrap-up last month.  Never before has a comic book superhero story been nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for best screenplay.  The closest was a nomination in the original screenplay category for Brad Bird for The Incredibles, a superhero story not adapted from a comic book property, plus graphic novel adaptations for films History of Violence and American Splendor.  But that puts Logan–an X-Men story starring Wolverine and a film that was the pinnacle of the Marvel franchise–right where it belongs, a film on equal footing with classic screenplay nominees featuring strong character development, including the likes of High Noon, Citizen Kane, Rocky, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Shane, The Grapes of Wrath, Sergeant York, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The writers adapted their story from no specific Marvel Comic series, instead pulling together ideas from several series, citing Craig Kyle’s X-23 series as a key influence.  Unfortunately actors Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart did not receive a nomination in the acting categories.

But the progress of Oscar doesn’t stop with Logan.  A creature feature, the supernatural fantasy The Shape of Water took a whopping 13 nominations, including best picture, best director (Guillermo del Toro), and best actress (Sally Hawkins) and supporting actor (Richard Jenkins).  Get Out, which is something more than just a horror genre movie (that also made our top list), is nominated for four Oscars, including three for first-time director Jordan Peele, for best picture, best director, and best screenplay.  That’s one heck of an introduction to Hollywood, and ties Peele for the record of most nominations in a single year (along with Warren Beatty for Heaven Can Wait and James L. Brooks, who went on to win all three categories for Terms of Endearment).   The film’s lead actor Daniel Kaluuya will be a big contender for the top spot in the best actor category.

Another film we loved, the riveting historical drama The Post (sometimes historical dramas get it right), received two nominations, including nods for best picture and actress Meryl Streep‘s compelling performance (her 21st nomination, breaking her own record for most nominated actor of all time), but unfortunately Oscar ignored one of the best Tom Hanks performances of his career and Liz Hannah’s exceptional screenplay.   For one of the four nominations for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the beloved composer John Williams garnered his 51st Oscar nomination (he’s won five) for best score, besting his own record and hot on the heels of Walt Disney for most nominations ever (Disney was nominated 59 times).  But was this a missed opportunity, when even Williams seemed impressed with himself for the unique work he’d created for his striking soundtrack for The Post?  As he told Variety in a recent interview, “I’ve never done anything quite like it.  There are three or four montages—the press-rolling montage, the extended review of the former presidents, waiting for Justice Black’s decision—with various degrees of intensity, speed and the like.”  In our review we correctly predicted nominations for best picture and sound for the war genre movie Dunkirk, which was nominated for eight Oscars, including best picture and best director (Christopher Nolan).  Hans Zimmer was nominated for his musical score, which was key to the film’s success.

Blade Runner 2049 fared quite well for a science fiction genre film with its five nominations, including cinematography, production design, and the three technical categories.  Alas, Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s elder wizard Mark Hamill did not get the opportunity to match Alec Guinness’s acting nomination for his similar role in the original Star Wars or Ian McKellen’s nomination for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

We loved the animated film Ferdinand, which is nominated for best animated film along with the highly praised film Coco, although our favorite song of the year, the riveting song from Ferdinand, “Home”–which was nominated for a Golden Globe award–was ignored by Oscar.  And speaking of snubs, will Oscar ever honor a performance like that of Doug Jones in The Shape of Water?  Just compare what he had to go through and what he was successful at in that film to another heavy makeup performance nominated yesterday, Gary Oldman playing Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour.  And of all categories how does The Shape of Water not get nods for visual effects or makeup?

Another coup, one of the highest grossing films of 2017, the live-action Beauty and the Beast, was nominated for both production design and costume design.  Our favorite for costumes and visual effects, Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets–one of the most visually creative movies in many years–received no nominations, but two of our visual effects runner-ups were nominated in that category: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and the aforementioned Blade Runner 2049Kong: Skull Island, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and War for the Planet of the Apes were the other nominees in that category.  Star Wars: The Last Jedi was also nominated for sound editing and sound mixing–will the film be rewarded for its much ballyhooed “sound of silence” gap in the film?

We also had pegged Valerian as a shoo-in for best costumes and makeup and hair (and production design, for that matter) for its hundreds of fantastic, groundbreaking designs, but none of our picks in those categories–Guardians of the Galaxy 2, The Post, or Thor: Ragnarok, made the cut.  The Academy once again leaned primarily on costume dramas in those categories.

One foreign film nomination almost makes the genre film cut, the Swedish comedic send-up of the contemporary art world, The Square, which co-starred popular actors Elisabeth Moss and Domenic West.  Find a list of all the nominees here.

Compared to prior years, yesterday’s list of nominations has much more to offer fans of genre films.  Although moviegoers will always find a stack of oddities and curious nominees offered up by the Academy (and we saw several of those again this year), it’s possible the voters are finally, albeit slowly, willing to begin acknowledging more of the artistry and craftsmanship of works beyond the typical, predictable Oscar contender.  At a minimum it will give more of us an excuse to tune in for the first time in years to an awards telecast.

The Oscar winners will be announced March 4, 2018, beginning at 7 p.m. Central at the 90th Academy Awards ceremony, on ABC.

C.J. Bunce




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