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This year’s Oscar nominations were announced today. While there were a few nice surprises (Rian Johnson nabbing an original screenplay nom for Knives Out), as usual some of the HeadStuff film section’s personal favourites went unrecognised. Below are the movies and performances we thought should have been honoured.
Best Actress – Elizabeth Moss, Her Smell
Why the majority of the award ceremonies slept over Elizabeth Moss’ unbelievable turn in Her Smell is less down to the fact there were better lead actress performances but more because – as the movie’s writer-director has pointed out – the indie picture didn’t have the marketing money to launch a major campaign. It’s a crying shame because if it did, people would see Moss’s acting easily ran rings around the admittedly good Renee Zellweger in Judy or Scarjo in Marriage Story.
Essentially the anti-A Star is Born, Her Smell begins with punk rocker Becky Something (Moss) already sunken into severe alcoholism and drug abuse. This is to such an extent she poses a risk to her infant child and her band mates – who struggle to cope with her violent mood swings. Shot like a horror movie by Perry and comprised of just five extended scenes, Moss’ performance is an incredible technical achievement, essentially doing the type of turn usually reserved to the stage but without a lengthy rehearsal period. Not only that but The Handmaid’s Tale star takes Becky’s unlikability to levels which feel almost dangerous to the viewer. Yet somehow she makes us invested and empathise in her often repulsive character. This is partly thanks to Moss’ rock star charisma in Becky’s brief moments of euphoria but also down to her fiercely authentic depiction of a person in the throes of addiction. As Perry himself says of his regular leading lady, she’s a ‘force of nature’. Stephen Porzio
Best Director – Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse
All directors start out with a vision of what their finished film will look like. Of course whether they can successfully transfer that vision from their mind onto celluloid is as dependent on fate as it is skill. With The Lighthouse, director Robert Eggers bends the very elements as well as two very elemental actors to his will. A tale of brine and brutality The Lighthouse sees lighthouse keepers or “wickies” Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) battle the elements and insanity off the coast of New England.
Max and Robert Eggers’ script never really settles on what’s really going on in The Lighthouse but it doesn’t really need to when the direction is this strong. Much like his debut effort The Witch Eggers brings extensive knowledge and research to bear. Pattinson and Dafoe immerse themselves in characters and a setting drawn from a seaweed soaked hell. Eggers’ decision to shoot on film equipment that pre-dates both colour and the widescreen format makes The Lighthouse feel both claustrophobic and thunderous. The framing, lighting and editing make the film feel like a lost folk tale constructed from a dying sailor’s fevered imaginings. There is no other film like The Lighthouse and none but Robert Eggers could tell the brine-soaked, barnacle-encrusted, squirming tale that it spins. Andrew Carroll
Best International Feature Film – Ash is the Purest White
Foreign language films are often perceived as stranger beasts than the English language counterparts the Academy are so eager to pile awards on. In fairness the likes of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives or Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo are strange beasts. On the other hand Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White feels at once universal and deeply Chinese. Zhangke weaves the story of gangster Guo Bin (Liao Fan) and his girlfriend Zhao Qiao (Zhao Tao) and their efforts to connect across a changing China.
Building on all his previous films Zhangke moves through three distinct acts: a neon-drenched opening, a yellowed uncertainty-laden middle and finally an ending grounded in depressing realism. Throughout it all Zhangke never loses that sense of romanticism even as he casts the Three Gorges Dam area as itself in a past age, before it was flooded. Ash is Purest White conflates an evolving romantic relationship with the ever-changing nation in which its set, never losing sight of what makes both important. Andrew Carroll
Best Supporting Actor – Robert Pattinson, The King
The Oscars have a pretty poor reputation in terms of nominating co-lead performances in supporting categories – eg Brad Pitt in OUATIH. To me, supporting categories should honour actors who appear for just a smattering of scenes yet walk away with the movie, being all viewers can talk about. No actor this year accomplished this task as much as R-Patz in The King.
Yes, The King is not an amazing movie. It’s too self-serious without saying anything revelatory. In fact, the film would be a lot better if everyone was on Pattinson’s level. Showing up mid-way through the film as the utterly smackable bleach blond Dauphin of France, the country Timothee Chalamet’s King Henry V has launched a war against, the former Twilight man is over-the-top, theatrical and above all fun. Alas though, The King is a Shakespeare adaptation. The Bard’s works are still performed today because they are entertaining and full of life. Unlike many of The King’s performances (looking at you, Sean Harris), Pattinson’s clearly having a ball – delivering vicious threats in a stunningly accurate French accent and a clipped cadence which just drips condescension and self-satisfaction. While for this particular character his attitude is proven to be misplaced, R-Patz himself has every right to be so confident. Stephen Porzio
Best Supporting Actor – Stephen Graham, The Irishman
It’s very rare that a director of mob movies – especially the Italian-American variety – will hire someone outside of that mob’s ethnic group. Looking at Anthony Provenzano aka “Tony Pro” in The Irishman it’s pretty clear that no one other than Scouse actor Stephen Graham could have played the diminutive Italian mobster and Union boss. His performance is, by turns, as vicious as a snarling dog yet also charmingly funny.
It takes an especially talented actor to sell the mid-film meeting between Frank Sheeran (Robert de Niro), Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) and Tony Pro. Despite the presence of two of the biggest acting heavyweights in the room Graham owns the scene all while looking magnificent in a pair of shorts that Tony Montana would be proud of. Joe Pesci is rightfully getting heaped with praise for his against type turn as reserved mob boss Russell Bufalino but he often feels like a third lead in The Irishman whereas Graham gives a supporting turn for the ages. Andrew Carroll
Best Supporting Actor – Tim Heidecker, Us
If I’m honest, I would really want to nominate Heidecker for his stone-cold sociopath in The Comedy (2012) or, if possible, his turn as business-mogul-cum-godfather in the episode “Brothers Cinco” from Tim and Eric. But since the thought police demand that I restrict myself to cinema from the last 12 months, Us will do. As always, Heidecker brings astonishing depth to what could be perceived as shallow characters. With Josh Taylor, patriarch to the family that act as a foil to the central Wilsons, his unique cadence underlines the absurdity of his most banal exchange. Later, as his doppelgänger Tex, he maintains a discomforting menace without missing a comedic beat. It’s Hollywood’s biggest shame that they will never recognise the incredible talent that is Tim Heidecker, but maybe a blessing in disguise for us who appreciate his more and more outlandish alternative projects. Sarah Cullen
Best Supporting Actress – Margaret Qualley, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Out of all its female performers, Margot Robbie’s turn as Sharon Tate is racking up the most nominations of OUATIH’s cast. Yet because of that movie’s screenplay – which aims to recontextualise the way people think of Tate as solely a victim – all Robbie needed to do was to look carefree, glamorous and sweet, which she admittedly did with aplomb.
That said, the real scene stealer of OUATIH is rising star Margaret Qualley as Pussycat, a hippie living with Charles Manson at Spahn Ranch. Her performance is a perfect encapsulation of Tarantino’s latest. It begins as a homage to old Hollywood. Her early interactions with Brad Pitt’s stuntman are utterly charming yet entirely without dialogue and completely physical like a silent movie star. Following these passages, her subsequent spoken scenes with Cliff are, like much of OUATIH, wickedly fun. Yet, there’s a slight dark, menacing edge to Qualley’s turn that slowly rears its head as the movie progresses – an element which underpins the real narrative fuel to Tarantino’s on the surface rambling narrative. This is that for better or worse in Hollywood, in just one moment your life can be changed forever, for better or worse. Stephen Porzio