Oscars 2019: What Should Have Been Nominated?

Directing

Oscar for Direction 2019

1. Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Oscar Nominated? – Yes.

Much celebrated across awards season elsewhere, Alfonso Cuaron’s role as director has been the source of much praise for the Netflix Original Roma, the famed director of the likes of Children of Men and Gravity taking on the roles of casting director, screenwriter and even cinematographer in the making of what is being seen as the most clearly authored movie of the Academy’s selection for Best Director in 2019. His work at bringing to life an indigenous Mexican woman working for a well-off Mexico City family in the 1970s was truly astounding, Roma being too good to refuse a cinematic release even by the previously exclusively streaming platform Netflix. Cuaron had a clear vision and a need to tell this story, so he worked tirelessly to bring every element of it together, directing in the sense that we often consider the most legendary filmmakers to have done through obsessed and passion, making his spot on any Best Director list for the 2019 Oscars simply irreplaceable.

2. Barry Jenkins (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Oscar Nominated? – No.

If any filmmaker alive on the planet can set a mood as good as Barry Jenkins, I’d like to see their films please. If Beale Street Could Talk is not only a socially conscious and challenging piece of cinema, but it is also a love letter to the history of black people in the United States that is both intimate and all-encompassing, with the very manner in which Jenkins has every element of the picture from camera to actors dancing around one another being as close to big screen poetry as there has been since his previous release Moonlight. Jenkins is a well established name and If Beale Street Could Talk is a truly phenomenal film, which makes his exclusion from the official list of Best Director nominees one of the most absurd missteps from this year’s list of nominees. Jenkins is quickly establishing himself as a master of tone and pacing, injecting light into dark moments where seemingly every other filmmaker seems incapable, his work quickly reaching the level of Master and his inclusion on this list for his work with If Beale Street Could Talk being undeniable.

3. Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Oscar Nominated? – Yes.

Much like If Beale Street Could Talk, The Favourite seems like the perfect exclamation of its director’s unique style, the movie picking up a lot of praise for its performances but the combination of every on-screen factor coming together under the guidance of Yorgos Lanthimos to produce something truly individualistic and equally phenomenal. The Favourite is one of those films that you watch and can’t quite put your finger on why you enjoyed it so much – it has a combination of some of the very best filmmaking elements you’ve ever seen, but it feels different to other classics and you wonder why. The reason is Lanthimos and his unmistakable ability to create an aura in his movies that remains strong film to film and is arguably at no time better than in The Favourite. Much like Cuaron and Jenkins before him on this list, Lanthimos is arguably a modern auteur whose craft is reaching its peak, his work on The Favourite making him a clear front-runner for entry into this selection and for the Oscar Gold at this year’s ceremony.

4. Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)
Oscar Nominated? – Yes.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War was one of this century’s great love stories and may be looked back upon as the movie in which Pawlikowski perfected how to mix his art-house, Tarkovsky-like visual and thematic style with something altogether more universally accessible. Providing two of the best performances of the year (see the Best Actress and Actor categories on the next page of this piece), Pawlikowski illustrated his nous for moulding successful characters and top performances while maintaining such a grip on the pacing and aesthetic of his picture that his film seemed, ultimately, his. Cold War was a film so unique to Pawlikowski that it was simply impossible to watch it and see it as anyone else’s, the way the film was cut, shot and designed simply oozing his presence. It was the one certified authored vision of the year – the story personal, the mixture of immense thematic exploration and unique visual splendour being of the highest level of the art form – and even in such a strong year as this, Pawlikowski must be on this list; his work here being so good that even The Academy recognised him (which is a rarity for an exclusively foreign language filmmaker).

5. Lynne Ramsay (You Were Never Really Here)
Oscar Nominated? – No.

Lynne Ramsay was listed in my “5 Most Idiotic Oscar Snubs 2019” piece as being one of the most idiotic snubs of this year’s awards season, and even with immense competition from the likes of those on this list and in the honourable mentions below, it remains absolutely absurd that she was never included on the official Oscars shortlist. Did The Academy not see this movie? You Were Never Really Here was some 6-7 years in the making from a filmmaker critically praised for previous work and a film with all the fat trimmed from the sides, the 89 minute run-time offering so much in such a little amount of time, every element of the picture being worthy of praise in its own right and the director piecing together one of the most unique, creative and impressive thrillers in recent memory. Lynne Ramsay is a special filmmaker and her work on You Were Never Really Here should certainly have been celebrated by the Academy in 2019.

Honourable Mentions: Debra Granik (Leave No Trace), Nadine Labaki (Capernaum), Spike Lee (BlackKklansman), Steve McQueen (Widows).

Missing Out: Spike Lee (BlackKklansman), Adam McKay (Vice).


Cinematography

2019 DoP Cinematography Oscars

1. Alfonso Cuaron (Roma)
Oscar Nominated? – Yes.

Picking up the camera and filming a picture you’re directing is never an easy feat, not even for those at the very top of their game like Cuaron, but doing so in Black and White brings its own unique and difficult challenges that the filmmaker overcame with tremendous success, and that’s not even considering what he did with the camera itself. Cuaron has never been a filmmaker short of visual ideas, his work on the likes of Children of Men framing action in ways we’re not too well accustomed to in mainstream Western cinema. In Roma, much of his signature came from long shots in which a lot of action took place, close-ups reserved only for special moments, the framing of the universe being almost as if looking at the story through the frame of a painting or from within the edges of a photograph. Cuaron made something truly beautiful and visually striking in Roma that was always bound to gain attention from the Academy given its colour palette and the story behind his solo effort, but his place on this particular selection is equally warranted, Roma being one of the most smart and beautifully shot movies of the year.

2. James Laxton (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Oscar Nominated? – No.

As described in the section about why If Beale Street Could Talk director Barry Jenkins should have been nominated, the camera in this beautiful movie danced as if a character within itself, the music dictating motion, the colours and the radiance shining from each character per the result of lenses and lighting choices indicative of some of the most special work of recent times – Kar Wai Wong’s In the Mood for Love (2000) instantly springing to mind as a comparison. A seasoned professional, Laxton has worked on a number of recognisable projects but at no stage have any of his professional partnerships seemed at a stronger point than when Laxton has been working with Jenkins (with whom he previously collaborated with on Moonlight). The greatest of cinematographers need directors willing to accommodate their specific talents, and Jenkins certainly seems to be that. You’ll be hard pressed to find any movie this year that seeps into your bones quite like If Beale Street Could Talk does, and a large part of that feeling comes from how it’s shot, making James Laxton an important member of this selection and a baffling exclusion from the Oscars in 2019.

3. Robbie Ryan (The Favourite)
Oscar Nominated? – Yes.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite not only tackled a classic genre filled with well defined conventions, but it did so while somehow offering something new, creating somewhat of a modern classic in the process. Much of this came from the film’s mixture of genre specific camera techniques, movements and action framing, but so much more came from silent cinema techniques such as shots lit only by candle light, the darkness of the blacks consuming characters in specifically tough moments – lighting hasn’t looked this good in years. Robbie Ryan also chose to use fish-eye lenses to extraordinary effect in The Favourite, providing a key visual indicator as to the film’s premise and tone while maintaining the grandiosity and pomposity of the genre film he was photographing. So often pieces like this are seen as the medium of directors and set designers, but despite both being at the very top of their game, there remains a level of notoriety and appreciation for Ryan’s work, proving his worth to the production and how he is absolutely deserving of his Oscar nomination.

4. Thomas Townend (You Were Never Really Here)
Oscar Nominated? – No.

So much of a Lynne Ramsay movie comes from the tone and pacing that the director herself places upon her film, but Thomas Townend’s work on You Were Never Really Here stood out in its own right, the camera bringing an added layer of depth to each scene, the choices within the camera coming to shine a new light on the central character at key moments while always maintaining the look and feel of an almost modern-noir picture with an art-house twist. You Were Never Really Here is an almost completely visceral experience, the dialogue being separated by large amounts of space on the page, adding a level of responsibility to Townend’s role in terms of developing a character visually; something the cinematographer indeed excelled in. Having apparently worked with Ramsay on developing their vision for the film over the course of three years, Townend (who had previously acted as DoP on only 2 feature releases: Attack the Block and Hidden) excelled at bringing her ideas to life and capturing the very essence at the heart of the movie, his work being some of the most instantly recognisable and calculated of any this past year.

5. Lukasz Zal (Cold War)
Oscar Nominated? – Yes.

Every Pawel Pawlikowski movie looks and feels like something extraordinary, and a large part of the initial visceral reaction that one feels upon watching an Ida or a Cold War is largely set in place by the wonderful work of Lukasz Zal. In Cold War, Zal orchestrated some of the most pure and timeless black and white cinema available in the modern age, the film as a whole seeming as if possibly ripped straight from the reel of a 40s or 50s classic, the 4:3 aspect ratio only adding to this feeling. Some of the film is like a documentary, while other parts are more like art installations, but never does any of this contradict the heart of the story. Zal captures the very essence of reality and paints it so vibrantly that it is simply unmistakable as being anything less than art, and in capturing the signature style of Pawlikowski with such concise and beautiful shots, has been deserving of all the praise (and the Oscar nomination) that has come his way.

Honourable Mentions: Sean Bobbitt (Widows), Alexander Dynan (First Reformed), Chayse Irvin (BlackKklansman).

Missing Out: Caleb Deschanel (Never Look Away), Matthew Libatique (A Star Is Born).

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