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Academy Award nominations laced with diversity

Nominations have been announced for the 90th annual Academy Awards. After last year’s #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the field is populated with the most diverse selections by all accounts in the award’s existence.

It seems that real efforts have been made to recognize and champion films that portray the experiences of people from different genders, ethnicities, sexualities and socioeconomic statuses, and even give love to some genre pictures that in the past probably would have been overlooked as ‘Entertaining but not Oscar-worthy.’

In my previous rundown I covered award front-runners Dunkirk, Lady Bird and The Shape of Water. Here are some other films getting buzz for potential awards.

Get Out

Get Out has been on award radars since it’s opening, and it would be hard to argue that any film has had a greater impact on the cultural zeitgeist. It’s funny, it’s thrilling, it’s startling. A strange hybrid horror comedy with big splashes of social satire thrown in.

The performances and direction were great and effective for the tightrope tone of the film. Then also, it doesn’t look like the normal Oscar bait film that takes home a statue. In a year like this one, hopefully diverging from the norm will be a boon instead of a blight.

Call Me by Your Name

Before watching Call Me by Your Name, I heard it described as ‘white guys in shorts feel sexual tension in Italy.’ Afterward, that summation is correct. The film’s strength does not lie in plot or dramatic circumstances. The aspects that shine and stay with me after the viewing, are the visuals and chemistry.

Separate, a film exhibiting either of these elements with the skill and subtlety of Call Me by Your Name would get the notice of audiences. But together, the beautiful vistas of the Italian villas connect so well with the budding curiosity and attraction between Elio and Oliver, played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Later, the intimate, playful interactions between the two, give way to close, tight, personal shots that convey the desire they have for each other.

For a film with a run-time of just under two hours and 15 minutes, and very way in the little of plot obstacles that don’t reside within the unsureness of the leads’ feelings for each other, I was entranced throughout.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

I’m just going to admit that I didn’t finish Three Billboards. I barely made it to the midpoint. Maybe I went in expecting Fargo for the Midwest, a dark-black comedy with violence and tragedy. But the humor didn’t land for me and, unlike Fargo, the film felt like it told the audience, “This is what it’s really like in Missouri’s main streets and back roads.”

Being from a small town myself, even smaller than the fictional town of the film, the characters had the strangest combination of seeming so familiar, while also wildly exaggerated, it made Three Billboards incredibly frustrating to watch.

There were good moments; the interactions between Mildred and Chief Willoughby, played by Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson, all conveyed the character’s mutual respect and frustration in interesting ways.

However, everyone, including McDormand and Harrelson seemed too over-the-top to be real people, or if they do exist, or they are purposefully exaggerated –  I’m not particularly interested in watching a movie about them.

Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon stuck out the most in this regard. In the beginning, he is a stupid, racist and immature alcoholic. He uses his position as a police officer in an attempt to force people to respect him through violence and threats. He is exactly the worst kind of person to hold a position of authority. But when asked by a fellow policeman why Dixon hasn’t been fired, Willoughby says, “He has a good heart.” From what I’ve heard of the film’s conclusion, he does redeem himself to some degree.

However, to get to his redemption, the people of this town would have had to deal with years of an incompetent, bigoted officer who previously took part in a “person-of-color torture.”

So, instead of watching the movie, I spent an hour checking how much time was left and thinking about how people justify to themselves doing bad things, before switching it off and moving on with my life.

I, Tonya

I, Tonya on the other hand, feels like a pair of pants that are long enough, but not too long and fit your thighs just right. It felt good watching I, Tonya. There should be an I, Tonya for every cultural villain. If there were a way to help fund an “I, Martin Shkreli,” then I would personally invest.

The film I, Tonya tells the life story of Tonya Harding, played by Margot Robbie, focusing mainly on her early life and leading up to the notorious assault of Nancy Kerrigan, then the immediate aftermath.

The narrative plays out according to Harding’s account of the events, but often presents a contrary version from either Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, played by Sebastian Stan, or her mother, LaVona Golden, played by Allison Janney.

I, Tonya was a fun, over-the-top biopic. The performances were constantly entertaining. The characters were all mixtures of driven, broken, abused and abusive, and ultimately tragic. The story is hilarious right up to the moment that it wasn’t, ending with a surprisingly poignant conclusion.

As an Oscar contender, Margot Robbie earned her Best Actress nomination, but as a whole, this is an incredibly entertaining film. In the end, it may even make the viewer consider their complicity in the celebrity meltdowns and pop culture villains that gain infamy then fade from our collective conscious. Plus, it’s worth it to see the all the 80s style on display.

The Academy Awards, will take place Sunday, Mar. 4.

 

ltmtz4@mail.umkc.edu

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