By Kate Pehrson and Liv Tollefson
Welcome to the Next Ten Words Academy Awards Predictions for 2018. In a four part series, longtime Twin Cities movie writers and enthusiasts Kate Pehrson and Liv Tollefson will look at the four major Academy Award Categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. Today we offer Part 3, Best Director. The 2018 nominees for Best Director are Guillermo del Toro, Christopher Nolan, Jordan Peele, Greta Gerwig and Paul Thomas Anderson.
Who Will Win:
Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water
A director’s director, an auteur, a devoted artisan to the craft of filmmaking, and self-designated defender of monsters, Guillermo del Toro has brought to life a story he’s been dreaming about since childhood. The Shape of Water is del Toro’s tribute to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but with a twist: this time, the monster gets the girl. Three of del Toro’s four Academy Award nominations are due to this movie, an ode to films of a prior age, the power of love, and the courage that is found among the wounded, powerless, and voiceless individuals of the world.
Del Toro creates his worlds through precise attention to detail and commitment to vision. He spent four years perfecting the design for the creature prosthetics alone: from the eyes, which had features subtly crafted to show humanlike expression, to the Greek sculpture-like derriere on said creature, which was the highlight of many a movie discussion. As with so many of his films, grand architectural features, moody environments, and color saturation creates an extremely intentional cinematic ambience. The bold angles, foreboding walls, and grey cement of the government facility where the heroine, Elisa, works is in stark contrast to the warm wood, human scale and plush textures of her apartment above the cinema. Del Toro showers his characters with affection and love, giving his beloved creatures and wounded humans a chance to shine and glow.
Never one to leave things to chance, the use of water is omnipresent: be it from the sky, the sea or captured in a vessel. Del Toro’s subtlety is also found through his linking of certain items with each character – red shoes with the heroine, eggs with the creature, Key Lime pie with the neighbor, and white mints with the villain. We see the increasing desperation and corruption of the antagonist through the literal rotting of his severed fingers, and the probability of love for her closeted gay neighbor is in inverse proportion to the number of pie slices in his ice box. There is a precise, calculated but completely organic movement towards the climax, and the ending is strangely intriguing, slightly unsettling, but cinematically satisfactory in a way that only Del Toro delivers.
Creature features and monster movies aren’t for everyone, but there’s no denying that The Shape of Water is a film made by someone who reminds us that a movie, masterfully made, can rise above it’s genre, and leave us breathless and inspired by art yet again.
Who Might Win:
Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk
Known for his arresting visuals and layered puzzles of pictures, Dunkirk is Christopher Nolan’s fifth Academy Award
Nomination, and one of eight for the movie. As a nominee with one of the earliest 2017 release dates, this film had legs from the get-go. A trilogy of sorts, this film is Nolan’s take on one of the landmark events of WWII, the evacuation of the troops at Dunkirk. Inspired by an event that happened years ago, when stuck in a small boat on the English Channel in harsh weather, Nolan suddenly internalized the events of Dunkirk in a way he hadn’t been able to before. The bravery, courage, hardiness and foolhardiness of the people and events at Dunkirk were no longer a historical fairy tale, and he brings the audience into history in a way that only Christopher Nolan can.
Playing with our perceptions of place and time, Nolan creates a film by layering threads that merge between land, air and sea, between weeks, days and hours. So much has been made of the English Channel and just how narrow it is, but in this film, Nolan shows us the folly of perceptions: what does it mean to evacuate thousands of men from one beach? What does it mean to hold back the German army from one tiny town? How long does it take a boat to cross 20 miles of open sea? How long does a tank of fuel last? How long does it take for the tide to come in?
Dunkirk thrills with the sights, sounds and fury of war, interspersed with the quiet moments of the humans that fight it. The audience views this tale from multiple vantage points and timelines, practically immersed in the battle itself. We flail in the water as the artillery explodes around us and our vessels sink, we hit the sand with the full force of our weight as we duck the bullets ricocheting around us on the beach, and we rattle in our cockpit seat, straining to see the enemy in the sun.
With a stunning cast that plays second fiddle but is wholly crucial to the setting and the story, this film shows Nolan’s terrific and unique skill at integrating story and image. This is a riveting film, and the standout favorite of our editor.
What About the Others?
Jordan Peele for Get Out
What a year for Jordan Peele, for whom Get Out garnered 4 Academy Award nominations, Peele’s first ever. Get Out is a ballsy horror tale and darkly satiric work about black life in America. Peele’s keen comedic mind turned to making this feature film because he felt it could provide a new access to the racial conversation in America. Aware that the current racial dialog is in need of some urgency and freshness, Peele said that perhaps if we couldn’t talk about racism directly, that we could talk about a movie about racism.
First teased in a secret midnight screening at Sundance, Get Out is visually spare. Characters inhabit the setting like moving mannequins. The main house in the film is large and well-furnished, but strangely perfect. The lawn is expansive but bare. We hear silence and breath, the sound of running feet or chopping wood, the stir of a teaspoon or the static of television. The paranoia is fed to us slowly alongside the main character, until the realization of our own entrapment dawns on us.
The cast is superb, with some of the iciest, most terrifying well-to-do white professional folk you will ever meet on screen. There is no warmth between the characters, only polite interactions. The only real warmth is experienced between Chris and his entertaining friend, Rod, TSA agent extraordinaire. Rod is the movie’s built-in black-person-yelling-at-the-screen stereotype, not entirely joking when he warns Chris there’s more to a weekend with his girlfriend than meets the eye.
This “escape-the-crazy” survival thriller is a stunning debut film. With a stellar cast, chewy script, and clever blunt-force confrontation, Get Out is required viewing.
Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird
The only woman director in this year’s slate of film, Greta Gerwig gives us a charming, unique, and funny coming-of-age tale with Lady Bird. It is well-documented in other places that this is Gerwig’s love letter to her hometown of Sacramento, California. But this is really a dance of duets: between the city and the young woman who lives there, and between the young woman and the individuals who have shaped her.
Being a love letter to a specific place, Lady Bird is a movie as much about it’s settings as anything else, and there are a lot of them. We get a glimpse into this central California town with visits to coffee shops, schools, clothing stores, modest houses, luxuriously large houses, grocery stores, office buildings and sidewalks. We envy the seemingly perpetual 70-degree sunlight, but take comfort in knowing a high school classroom is pretty much the same wherever you may be.
The dialogue in Lady Bird is spot-on, nailing the kind of natural, back-and-forth here-and-there conversations that occur between moms and daughters in – say – dressing rooms, or the tender, but serious conversations that daughters have with their fathers. The soundtrack is kick-ass. Gerwig deftly takes us straight to the core of female adolescence, with its besties, jealousy, crushes, cliques, authority issues, mom issues, sibling irritations and college applications. As moodily cinematic as The Shape of Water is, Lady Bird is it’s onscreen opposite – a movie as a slice-of-life as so many of us know it.
Gerwig has had quite a bit of success as an actor, and all her time on set and her experience in the industry has paid off in spades. This is a lovely debut film – and we’re so happy there are two such debutantes being honored this year – and a well-deserved feather-in-the-cap for Greta Gerwig.
Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread
Paul Thomas Anderson, director of such offbeat films as Punch Drunk Love and Boogie Nights, gives us a tale that he said is about the tenderness of the invalid and the power of the nurse, and how the “odd bout of illness” is important to art and health. Ultimately, this is the tale of a threesome of characters: the designer, his icy sister, and his lovely muse. Phantom Thread is a glimpse into the world of a particular, opaque, and isolated haute couture clothing designer, Reynolds Woodcock, that plays out subtly over two hours.
Anderson uses an elegant hand throughout Phantom Thread. Most of the movie takes place in well-appointed interiors. There’s the light-filled, elegant, high-ceilinged Georgian interior of the designer’s London home and studio. There’s the cozy but plush restaurant corner booth where he regularly dines. And there’s Woodcock’s more human-scaled country house, complete with happy canine. Any time spent outside is brief, and most interactions between people are reserved and quiet.
The use of silence and sound is exaggerated for our benefit, so that we hear the powerful roar of his roadster’s engine as he speeds through country lanes, but also so that we are just as irked as Woodcock when toast is buttered too loudly, or emotional pleadings aren’t kept in check. Naturally, Anderson uses texture, color, and attention to detail and formality, the way a clothing designer must. We see and hear the pencil sketch the design, we feel the slide of the scissors through the cutting paper, we hear the pull of thread in a seam of fabric. Sunlight shines directly through office windows to highlight business and personal matters, but the light is always muted, flattering and soft for his clientele.
The acting ensemble is excellent, and Anderson skillfully directs a steady, slow, quiet, strange, and quite European romantic tale. A previous Academy Award nominee for writing, this is Anderson’s second directing nod (for There Will Be Blood coincidentally also starring Daniel Day-Lewis.) Ultimately, Phantom Thread is an elegant dessert of a film.
Kate Pehrson and Liv Tollefson have been writing Academy Awards predictions together for five years and have been watching movies together for much longer than that. Kate’s musings can be found on Twitter at @K8Pehrson, while Liv is @broadwaybabee. Both may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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