You’ll be shocked, shocked, to hear that the Academy doesn’t always get it right. That can be true of those it nominates as well as those it awards. This year’s Oscars are no exception. Here are six examples — or eight, depending on how you do the math.
Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”)
One of the things that makes Gabriel central to “Get Out” is how she flits around the edges. She’s all the spookier for being barely glimpsed. This makes her the most unsettling element in a movie that’s all about unsettling audiences. Then, bam, her character really is central. There she is alone with Daniel Kaluuya’s character, and in barely half a minute her face goes through about six different emotional registers — and they all cohere.
Graham Greene (“Wind River”)
Tracy Letts (“Lady Bird”)
Jacob Tremblay (“Wonder”)
Take your pick, two out of three. Each gives a richer, more challenging, more memorable performance than do the two nominees in this category from “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: Woody Harrelson and (especially) Sam Rockwell. Greene’s tribal police chief, all dry wit and sorrowful knowing, provides the moral center of “Wind River.” Letts’s unemployed father provides a sad, understated balance for the fireworks from Saoirse Ronan’s title character and Laurie Metcalf’s mother. Tremblay, as the disfigured little boy, basically provides the whole movie. Truly, his performance is a thing of wonder.
“A Quiet Passion”
One of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems begins “There’s a certain Slant of light.” Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography for Terence Davies’s Dickinson movie is anything but slanted. Lucid and uninflected, it bespeaks the light of a time that was both simpler and fiercer. The look of “A Quiet Passion” somehow manages to combine distance and immediacy. Viewers feel they are getting a glimpse of the 19th century, yet without any obvious devices like sepia tones to achieve the effect.
Animation doesn’t get the respect that live action does. It’s not as “serious.” Yet the very fact that animation frees a filmmaker to do pretty much anything makes the challenge of writing an animated screenplay all the greater (if also all the more exciting). The screenwriter still needs to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, but with multiple alphabets. That’s what’s been done with “Coco,” courtesy of Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich, who wrote the script, and director Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz, Aldrich, and Molina, who came up with the story. Step back from the amazing visuals, and you see that it’s a marvel of construction as well as imagination.
What does a movie score do? It comments on and enhances the images the viewer is seeing — and, ideally, enlarges their impact. Never getting in the way or calling attention to itself, Tyler Bates’s chilly Euro techno-pop does all those things in David Leitch’s chilly Euro techno-fierce thriller. Charlize Theron stars as the title character, with Bates’s music as her most dependable accomplice.
The shoot-’em-up that’s the climax of Ben Wheatley’s Boston-set crime drama goes on longer than rush hour on the old Central Artery. Quentin Tarantino, at his most self-indulgent, seems terse by comparison. But what keeps the viewer looking is how expertly the action has been cut. It’s like “Baby Driver” without wheels but with as big an engine under the hood. If all that weren’t enough, has there ever been a better name for a film editor than “Amy Jump”? She shares the editing credit with Wheatley.Mark Feeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.