Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Blog post by Josh Harris, Media Services Librarian
If you have ever visited Smith Library’s lower level you will know that we have offer a film collection. Students can use their HPU passport to check out up to three at a time. With so many choices, however, it can be intimidating. One place to begin is by watching past and present award winners and nominees. At the end of January, the Best Picture nominations for the 2019 Academy Awards were announced. Ranging from a musical biopic to an off-kilter period piece to (unfortunately relevant) true stories of racial strife in America to a dramatic story of a struggling working class family in Mexico — and even a Marvel superhero movie — the nominations this year represent a shift in the Academy’s selection process and a broadening of scope for the films that will be celebrated at the 91st Academy Awards on February 24th. Here’s a quick rundown of the films competing for the Academy’s highest honor:
1. A Star is Born
Long-time actor and first-time director Bradley Cooper team up with Lady Gaga, Dave Chappelle, and Sam Elliott for the third remake of the original 1937 film (fourth if you count the 2013 Bollywood film Aashiqui 2). Cooper plays Jack, a country music singer who discovers a rare talent in Ally, a waitress and aspiring musician. As Jack helps Ally realize the depths of her musical talent, his years of habitual drinking and drug use begin to catch up with him.
The film has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Cooper), Best Actress (Gaga), Best Supporting Actor (Elliott), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Song (“Shallow”).
Alfonso Cuarón has directed some of the best films of the 21st century (so far), including Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Gravity. With Roma, Cuarón took a sharp turn from his earlier works in two ways. For one, this film is a grounded, emotional story set in Mexico in the 1970s, not a bleak dystopian future, a fantastical wizarding school, or astronauts floating in space. For another, Roma was picked up for distribution through Netflix — not the major studios like Universal, 20th Century Fox, or Warner Bros. that Cuarón had worked with before — meaning that Roma is the first film under the Netflix banner to be nominated for the highly coveted Best Picture Academy Award.
But it doesn’t stop there. Roma has proven to be an award-gaining powerhouse for Netflix, racking up an incredible 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film.
When Adam McKay wrote and directed The Big Short in 2015 he did the impossible: he found a humorous way to tell the story of the most devastating financial crisis since the Great Depression, all while actually informing the audience using creative methods to explain the complex inner workings of Wall Street. For instance, having Margot Robbie in a bubble bath defining financial jargon or Selena Gomez at a blackjack table explaining how collateralized debt obligations work.
McKay proved with The Big Short that he can use clever narrative devices and the language of film to clarify the purposefully murky and mysterious. With Vice, McKay attempts to do this with a single person, former Vice President Dick Cheney. You may think that telling the story of a single man should be far simpler to do, but when you consider the breadth of Cheney’s long career in business and politics — and just how much of an impact he has had on the trajectory of American policy — this story may be much more complex.
Vice has been nominated for 8 awards, including Best Director (McKay), Best Actor (Christian Bale), Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell), and Best Supporting Actress (Amy Adams).
4. Green Book
From one half of the comedy duo that brought you such funny film staples as There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, Stuck on You, and Hall Pass, comes a road trip/buddy film that takes a sharp turn from the goofy slapstick that the Farrelly Brothers are known for.
Tony (Viggo Mortensen) is an Italian-American bouncer hired by classical pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) to chauffeur and protect Don during his concert tour through the Midwest and Deep South in 1962.
The titular Green Book is a real publication written and published from 1936-1966 by postal worker Victor Hugo Green. The book was meant to offer African-American travelers a directory of gas stations, hotels, and restaurants where they could be served without facing threats or violence because of their race. While this film is at times playful and funny, it serves as a stark reminder of the vastly different Americas that people encounter, depending on their race.
Green Book has been nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Mortensen), Best Supporting Actor (Ali), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Editing.
5. The Favourite
Greek film director Yorgos Lanthimos has never had trouble making films that stand out. His films Dogtooth, Alps, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer each call forth this feeling of exuberant awkwardness; something that is at once absurd, hilarious, and tragic.
The Favourite is a surreal story set in Queen Anne’s court in 18th century England, where two cousins, Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), compete to be the court favorite of the Queen (Olivia Colman). The film has already been an award season powerhouse, winning 7 BAFTA awards and a Golden Globe (Best Actress – Olivia Colman). It has been nominated for 9 Academy Awards, including Best Actress (Colman), Best Supporting Actress (Weisz, Stone), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing.
This musical biopic follows the meteoric rise of the legendary rock band Queen from 1970, when frontman Freddie Mercury joined the band (which was then called Smile) until 1985, when the band performed at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium.
Like many musical biography films, Bohemian Rhapsody has its share of historical inaccuracies (see this article in Rolling Stone for specifics). However, most critics agree that beyond a few issues with the timeline and depiction of Queen’s dynamic, the film is a solid crowd-pleaser for its casting, sound design, and editing. The scenes featuring the actors performing Queen hits are especially spot-on and satisfying.
Bohemian Rhapsody has been nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Rami Malek), Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Editing.
Director Spike Lee has spent the last 34 years making films that explore race, politics, and societal maladies in America. From his directorial debut She’s Gotta Have It, to Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Bamboozled, and more recently Chi-Raq, Lee has consistently used the medium of film to investigate and expose injustices in America. BlacKkKlansman is no different.
The film is based on the 2014 memoir by Ron Stallworth, in which Stallworth describes how he and fellow officers in the Colorado Springs Police Dept. infiltrated and exposed a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Starring John David Washington as Stallworth, Adam Driver as Det. Phillip “Flip” Zimmerman, and Topher Grace as KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, this film features incredible performances, both serious and comedic. It is in this blend of comedy and drama that Spike Lee crafts this story to give the audience loveable (though imperfect) heroes and sinister villains, with Topher Grace bringing every ounce of his amiable demeanor to his polite, genteel portrayal of the monster that is David Duke.
BlacKkKlansman is nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Director (Lee), Best Supporting Actor (Driver), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing.
Starting over a decade ago with Iron Man, Marvel Studios has produced 20 films (so far) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These movies are huge financial successes and contain big, exciting spectacles that anyone would expect to see in a big-budget action flick (aka “popcorn movie”). Marvel Studios is the most profitable film studio of all time, grossing over $17 billion collectively, but never before has a Marvel superhero movie been blessed with a nomination for the Academy’s most coveted award. Black Panther changed that.
The film follows T’Challa (Chad Boseman), heir to the throne of the highly advanced (and secret) civilization of Wakanda. He returns home to assume the throne following his father’s death (which we witnessed in the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War) and is drawn into conflict — both by his own people and by supervillain Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) — that threatens the future of Wakanda and the world.
Director Ryan Coogler isn’t as seasoned as some of the other directors on this list, but when you consider that his two previous films are Fruitvale Station and Creed (both starring Michael B. Jordan) it is clear to see that this young filmmaker has incredible talent and vision.
Black Panther has been nominated for 7 Academy Awards, including Best Original Score, Best Original Song (“All the Stars”), Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing.
The 91st Academy Awards ceremony will be held on February 24th. Check it out and root for your top pick from this list!