By John H. Foote
When they announce this year’s Academy Award nominations tomorrow morning there are a handful of nominations I would like to hear (but probably will not) that would indeed make this cranky critic smile.
It is expected and fully deserved that The Irishman, 1917, Marriage Story and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood will dominate the nominations, but here are five I hope sneak in, and believe me, they should be there.
Every now and then the Academy nominates a performance or achievement to remind us they are indeed watching the films and paying attention. I remember smiling with great satisfaction the morning Tommy Lee Jones was nominated for Best Actor as the distraught father in The Valley of Elah, an important film anchoured by his brilliant work. Hopefully we get something like that tomorrow.
BEST ACTOR: ADAM SANDLER IN UNCUT GEMS
For his frantic, sweaty, constantly terrified gambler afraid of losing everything except his life, Sandler is extraordinary, recalling the great seventies work of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. He is so far into this character, Howard, it is hard to believe this is the same actor actor who ever portrayed Happy Gilmour or any of the other moronic creations his fans love. Here he establishes himself as a highly courgeous and gifted actor, intensely focused who, after flirting with dramatic roles before (and very well), goes full bore. Sandler is revelatory folks, absolute genius in a demanding, tough film that deserves attention. Imagine going at this pace for the entire shoot? He must have been exhausted, yet he can smile with the satisfaction that no one can take this away from him, ever, if only for one film, he has been astounding. A complete surprise. It is a category filled this year with truly great performances, but this was among the very best.
BEST ACTRESS: JESSE BUCKLEY IN WILD ROSE
This entertaining fish out of water story explores a Scottish lass (Buckley) recently paroled, hoping to get her life together, entering the world with a dream, which is to be a country and western superstar. Insurmountable? Maybe. Armed with her dreams, ambition and a big voice she goes for her it and though she encounters obstacles after obstacle, she never stops. Buckley is only magnificent as the tough little lady seeking to sing country and western and to be a big star. The film and the performance got lost among the summer blockbusters, but every now and then the Academy remembers. Here is hoping this rose blooms. Oscar winner Mary Steenburgen co-wrote one of the songs!
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: ROBERT DOWNEY JR. IN AVENGERS – ENDGAME
It has long been accepted that Downey Jr. is a gifted actor, one of the greatest in the business. His troubles with drugs nearly ruined his career but he bounced back with Iron Man (2008) and became the face of the Marvel franchise as that character. For 11 years and more than 20 films he has appeared as Tony Stark/Iron Man and slowly evolved into an astonishing character who, fittingly, meets his end in the final film. Go beyond the hug he gives Peter Parker/Spiderman when he finds him alive, go further in his scenes with his daughter, to the final moments of his life when he declares to us all, unforgettably, “I am Iron Man”. Indeed sir you are. Just nominate the man.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: MARGOT ROBBIE IN ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD
Though likely to be nominated for her supporting turn in Bombshell, it is my fervent hope Robbie is nominated for her sunny, lovely turn as Sharon Tate in Tarantino’s love letter to Hollywood. Knowing what happened to Tate, the horrible way she died, makes Robbie’s performance all the more transcendant, even haunting, as we watch her in what might have been her final days on earth before encountering the Manson clan. Filled with love, with promise, with hope, she was by all accounts a beautiful human being, which Robbie conveys with very few words. And that ending? It is as though Rick Dalton were encountering an angel next door, ethereal, otherwordly. Robbie is the heart and soul of this film.
BEST DIRECTOR: TAIKA WAITITI FOR JO JO RABBIT
He might be nominated, he is a nominee for a Directors Guild of America Award (DGA) which bodes well, but there is always at least one, sometimes two DGA nominees who miss the cut. In nominating this brilliant director the Academy would be saying they understand his achievements on the film, a vicious black comedy about a 10-year old Nazi zealot during the Second World War who speaks to his imaginary friend, Hitler (Waititi). Bringing a zany warmth to Hitler (I kid not) is an astonishing achievement, but coaxing the performances he did out of the actors in the film, showing new comic shades to Scarlett Johansson, and giving the performance he did himself, are alone reasons he should be among the nominees. One of the finest films I saw last year. His direction was sublime.
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”