Although it’s just beginning, 2018 may mark a transition point for Hollywood, with historical streams flowing in different directions under the pressure of new cross-currents.
Tuesday’s Oscar nominations suggest a rising tide for stories by and about women — as if the #MeToo and Time’s Up feminist movements impacted the process the same way that #OscarsSoWhite inspired a new focus on racial diversity last year.
Consider the nine contenders for best picture. Women play essential roles in six of the films: “Lady Bird,” “The Shape of Water,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Phantom Thread,” “The Post” and “Get Out.”
That is a major shift. In some ways movies have followed a limited path of gender parity, a lens of viewing experiences that shuts women out of the conversation. Now they seem to be exploring a new frontier, beginning to see things from a different point of view, inviting women to have a voice and also inviting men to take part in a different way.
The directing field, one of the branches of the Academy that has been the least inclusive, also opened its inner circle a bit by nominating “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig, the first female in the category since Kathryn Bigelow in 2009 and only the fifth in Oscar history. First-timer Jordan Peele entered the exclusive ranks of African-American nominees for “Get Out,” while Guillermo del Toro joined the rising group of Mexican filmmakers to be honored, for “The Shape of Water.” Although it’s his 10th feature film, he has just one previous nomination, as screenwriter for 2006’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
Overall, “The Shape of Water” racked up 13 nominations, leaving it just one short of the record 14 shared by “La La Land,” “Titanic” and “All About Eve.”
The inclusion of Peele and del Toro is especially interesting because they created horror films with science fiction roots, film categories usually disdained by the Academy. Each of the three also scored a best original screenplay nod, which should quash any sour grapes about political correctness hijacking the nominations.
The best-actress nominees all were in strong female-led films. The field included both established Oscar winners (Meryl Streep for “The Post” and Frances McDormand for “Three Billboards”) and upcoming talents (Sally Hawkins in “The Shape of Water,” Margot Robbie in “I, Tonya” and Saoirse Ronan for “Lady Bird”), performing at levels of layered insight and expression that left most male competitors for best actor coughing in their dust.
Nonetheless, the best-actor picks were a worthy, diverse mix of newcomers (Timothée Chalamet in “Call Me by Your Name” and Daniel Kaluuya in “Get Out,” the biggest surprise in the category) and veterans (Daniel Day-Lewis in “Phantom Thread,” Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour,” and Denzel Washington in “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”).
Streep’s beloved co-star in “The Post,” two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, missed the cut because he couldn’t match her firepower.
Three films in which women were sidelined or even invisible — “Call Me by Your Name,” “Darkest Hour” and “Dunkirk” — also will contend for best picture when the Academy Awards are presented March 4 (7 p.m., KSTP, Ch. 5), with Jimmy Kimmel returning as host.
The 13 nominations for “The Shape of Water” were spread out between high-profile and technical-merit categories. In addition to best picture, director and actress, Octavia Spencer was nominated as supporting actress and Richard Jenkins as supporting actor. The film also was on the lists for film editing, production design and sound (both mixing and editing).
One surprise in this female-dominated year: The highest-grossing U.S. film of 2017, “Wonder Woman,” received zero nominations.
The World War II saga “Dunkirk” landed eight nominations, and the crime drama “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouiri” got seven. Both were somewhat surprising.
“Dunkirk” had not fared well in the awards programs leading up to the Oscars, causing it to fade from the attention of most handicappers. And “Three Billboards” has come under fire lately for what many viewers see as an undercurrent of racism, but that apparently didn’t dampen voters’ enthusiasm. In fact, Sam Rockwell, whose character has been the source of many of the complaints, received a nomination for supporting actor.
Four black actors are among the field of 20 contending for Oscars this year, including R&B/hip-hop singer Mary J. Blige for “Mudbound.” That African-American-produced indie drama got four nominations in all.
Perhaps the most delightful shock was the supporting-actor nomination of 88-year-old Christopher Plummer, who didn’t even know he would be in “All the Money In The World” until he was suddenly drafted to reshoot Kevin Spacey’s scenes in a rocket-speed week and a half following sexual-harassment allegations against Spacey. Whether or not he wins, it’s a stunning accomplishment.
And it seems likely that Allison Janney, sometimes called the Meryl Streep of TV, will cross that divide, continuing her Golden Globes and SAG winning streak for her caustic and hilarious work as a very bad mother in “I, Tonya.” No one else in the category tackled a role so hateful that you cannot stop loving her.