2018 Academy Awards - The Films That Impacted Me the Most This YearFebruary 22, 20186 min read
As a lifelong film fan, I love to see movies that have not only great aesthetic quality, but also tremendous entertainment value (no, they are not the same thing--ask any fan of the Transformer movies) being celebrated in a single (often 4-hour plus) evening of glamour and self-congratulatory speeches. In fact, I must admit that my lifelong love of the Oscars has even spilled over into my professional life; from academic papers examining the verbal and nonverbal strategies used during Oscar speeches, to scheduling a formal end-of-the-semester faux-Oscar party where my students will screen and then possibly receive awards for elements of their own B-Movie films.
As a scholar of apologia rhetoric (rhetoric of apology or defense), the Oscars also provide plenty of ammunition for discussion. Last year, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway incorrectly announced the Best Picture winner as La La Land when it was, in fact, Moonlight that had actually won the award. I’ll never forget Tom Hanks’ speech after winning Best Actor for his 1993 performance in Philadelphia. He paid tribute to his acting mentor who he affectionately referred to as “one of the finest gay Americans.” Unfortunately, his mentor had kept his sexuality secret up to that point. Some Oscar missteps are more harmless, such as Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her way up the stairs to accept her Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook.
In 2018, we should be treated to another fantastic ceremony. SUU alumna Keala Settle will be performing the Oscar nominated song “This is Me” from the film The Greatest Showman. The song, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, has already picked up the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice awards for Best Original Song, and I expect Settle to knock it out of the park in her performance and then be on stage again later in the show as Pasek and Paul win their second Oscar in a row (taking the same prize last year for La La Land).
This year’s Academy Awards will also showcase some other extremely talented women who have already made history in securing nominations, and could set a new mark by winning in their respective categories. Meryl Streep has been nominated for a record-setting 21 Oscars (actually breaking her own record) with her performance in Steven Spielberg’s The Post, and looks to tie Katharine Hepburn for the most Oscar wins at four wins.
Another first at the Oscars is Rachel Morrison receiving the first ever nomination for a female cinematographer for her work in Mudbound, a film about a black soldier facing racism in the South after returning home from World War II. The cinematography in the film is beautiful and I will be rooting for Morrison to provide women their first win in this category.
In my opinion, history could have been made several times in earlier years. Past incredibly shot films included The Wrestler, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Frozen River, Fruitvale Station, and Hustle and Flow. These all had talented female cinematographers at the helm and none received nominations. Many are critical of the Academy for not celebrating women earlier. However, it’s probably more of the fault of the American Society of Cinematographers, who didn’t admit women to their organization until 1980. Even to this day, women have only 4% representation in the organization. So, let me be clear. Plenty of female cinematographers should have been celebrated between 1980 and now, but it hasn’t been nearly a hundred years of exclusionary behavior by the Academy as many tend to argue.
If you are reading this commentary because you want help with your Oscar pool, I’m not the man to assist you. I’m one of hundreds of people who mistakenly think they can predict the winners. I will, however, tell you who I think should win in some of the key races. Some academic film critics believe their opinions matter more than others because of our film training; I’m a big believer in what communication theorist Walter Fisher argues when he says that stories resonate with us uniquely because of our personal values and experiences. You can tell someone that on an objective level, this film isn’t well-shot, well-acted, or well-scripted. However, you can’t tell someone which films should and should not resonate with them on a personal level. So whether you like them or not, these are the films/performances that impacted me the most this year.
Best Picture: The Post. The movie felt to me like a natural prequel to one of my all time favorite films All the President’s Men. Spielberg should have won many more times than he actually has and Saving Private Ryan losing to Shakespeare in Love in 1998 was perhaps one of the biggest mistakes in Oscar history (next to Goodfellas losing to Dances with Wolves and Forrest Gump beating both The Shawshank Redemption AND Pulp Fiction). I also feel compelled to give a shout out to The Greatest Showman, which should have secured a place among the year’s best as a nominee for Best Picture.
Best Actor: Gary Oldman, The Darkest Hour. This one should be about as obvious as when Daniel Day-Lewis ran away with the award for Lincoln. A no-brainer! If someone were to shock the world by beating Oldman, I would expect it to be one of the two Daniels--Daniel Day-Lewis (Phantom Thread) or Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out).
Best Actress: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. I absolutely hate it when great actors win awards for performances that are excellent, yet inferior to much of their other work. This happened with Al Pacino when he won for Scent of a Woman. It was given to him more as a way of correcting past snubs than for his current performance. I would love to see Streep win her fourth Oscar, but McDormand was the best actress this year. I think if Streep wins, it’s out of respect for her body of work and not her specific work in The Post.
Best Supporting Actor: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Sam Rockwell is one of the most underrated actors working in Hollywood today. If you don’t believe me, go watch Duncan Jones’ film Moon, his work in The Way Way Back, or his current work in Three Billboards…
Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney, I, Tonya. I really think Janney and Mary J. Blige offer the most powerful performances, but I have to pick Janney here as she plays Tonya Harding’s abusive mother. Harding herself has praised Janney for her accurate portrayal of her mother and Janney has expressed sadness over the reality of Harding’s life in many interviews. I believe the film provides a misguided view of Harding’s despicable behavior during the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships by recasting her as a victim, but this doesn’t detract from the power of Janning’s performance.
Best Director: This category is stacked with directors who have made some of my favorite films. We have Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception, Memento) nominated for Dunkirk, Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia) nominated for Phantom Thread, and Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) nominated for The Shape of Water. I am not very familiar with Greta Gerwig’s previous work, though she is nominated for a movie that put me to sleep (Lady Bird). I would like to see Jordan Peele win this year for Get Out because I still can’t believe the comedian from Key and Peele made such an intense and well-crafted horror/suspense film.
Other races: I’m hopeful that Edgar Wright’s (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) amazingly edited film Baby Driver sweeps all of the awards for Film Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing, though I know these awards are probably going to more high profile movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Dunkirk. I would also very much like for Kobe Bryant to NOT win for Dear Basketball, a really lame animated short film that only got nominated because he’s Kobe Bryant.
Whatever films you’re cheering for, I hope you enjoy the Oscars this year. Even if the show is too long (the record is 4 hours and 23 minutes), the opening monologue is underwhelming (worst hosts ever Anne Hathaway and James Franco), or your favorite movies get snubbed in every category (maybe you’re mad The Emoji Movie was left out), we know one part will be great. SUU’s very own Keala Settle will represent our small community amazingly well as she belts out the hit “This is Me” on a global platform that usually draws around 33 million television viewers. The woman is an undeniable talent!
Dr. Stein is known for his Popular Culture Messages course at SUU, combining his research in popular culture and rhetorical criticism. He is comfortable with the media and available for interviews. Simply visit his profile.
Kevin Stein Director MAPC Program/Professor of Communication
The rhetoric of political campaign messages and communication strategies of politicians