Friends and Neighbors, we are proud to present the return of Things We’re Digging to the Lewton Bus fold. We’ll be kicking off the return of this weekly series with a look at this weekend’s Academy Awards…or more accurately, a look at films, performances, and more of 2018 that members of the LB crew believe deserve more appreciation or didn’t garner a nomination.
Adam Bumas – Rob Hardy’s Cinematography
Rob Hardy shot two of the best-remembered movies of 2018. Alex Garland’s Annihilation and Chris McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout have a grand total of zero Oscar nominations between them, but both have already established an indelible mark on movie-going culture in their own way.
Movies are always an enormous group effort, with Annihilation and Fallout making that particularly clear – both tell the story of a team on a mission that tests each member’s body and soul until only the strongest are left standing. I single Rob Hardy out, though, because both movies required a herculean effort from the British cinematographer.
Annihilation‘s storytelling required over a dozen different cameras to visualize the film’s journey into the uncanny, with elements like the lens flares and position of the sun being used as active elements of the plot, not just to set the mood.
Meanwhile, Fallout follows Tom Cruise and friends from Paris to London to helicopters above snow-capped peaks. Hardy’s camera crew had to invent entirely new methods of shooting to accommodate the filmmaker’s emphasis on practical stunts and location work, and the consistent sense of texture and scale his lighting provides make the story feel whole, in a way it wouldn’t otherwise.
These movies both deserve way more Oscar attention than none at all, but if pressed I want to single out Hardy’s indispensable contribution to both.
H.M. Flores– Ethan Hawke in First Reformed
First Reformed was a masterclass of understated cinema, and not in small part thanks to Ethan Hawke’s quiet, but powerful central performance. He became one of the best working actors today thanks to his ability to convey his character’s depression and impotence in a world that goes out of it’s way to limit his potential.
So it makes perfect sense that he wasn’t nominated for Best Actor, usually reserved for the flashy transformations, famous people impressions and the type of BIG LOUD ACTING you can show off in the montage reel during the telecast.
Both Hawke and director-writer Paul Schrader are outcasts of sorts in the business, never setting for the mainstream trends, and they have a recurring through-line where they call the world out on its nonsense by prioritizing internal character work. Watching their particular sensibilities working together was a wonder to behold. They’re incredibly valuable voices in cinema, and First Reformed just elevates my already high appreciation for them.
Kevin Kuhlman – Paul Schrader
I could write about how the eventual winners pool this year might be the most diverse yet, with two black men, a black woman, an Egyptian-American man, a Mexican man, and…Glenn Close likely winning major awards. But I’d rather talk about how over the moon I am that Paul Schrader, psychosexually insane auteur extraordinaire, has finally made it. It’s a shame it took almost a half century since Taxi Driver — which mind you garnered neither a best screenplay nomination for Schrader nor a directing nomination for Scorsese — but he’s here now and that’s all that matters. And it feels appropriate that First Reformed is the film to get him here, as it’s almost a magnum opus of sorts, combining his minimalistic, Bressonian filmmaking style with a screenplay that is equal parts Mishima and Last Temptation of Christ with a big, heaping helping of Taxi Driver. He’s also a mad genius who, if he wins, almost certainly would give the greatest speech in the history of the Academy Awards. Give him a statuette so he can ramble about constipating the board at Words with Friends. I’m begging you.
Diane C. – Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman
One of my favorite performances this year was Adam Driver’s work in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Driver is nominated this year for Best Supporting Actor and he deserves the praise. As Flip, Ron Stallworth’s Jewish police partner and stand-in at those infamous KKK meetings, Driver has to allow his character to play it cool with the Klan while also continuing to build his character’s personality and motivation, as well as letting the audience in on Flip’s apprehension at these meetings. It’s many jobs in one and he pulls it off delightfully. Just because Driver is consistently fantastic in everything he’s in doesn’t mean that consistency shouldn’t be rewarded. Let’s not take him for granted, now.
Andrew Clark – Unheralded Scores
It was a year of fantastic music at the movies, and while celebrating Ludwig Göransson’s excellent Black Panther score (my favorite to win…check out this great behind-the-scenes look), I wanted to take a moment to celebrate two scores that didn’t garner any nods.
Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury had a tall order with scoring Alex Garland’s dreamlike Annihilation. The music, like the film, like it’s characters, like it’s story and visuals, must shift and change in the shimmer. Their score buoys this sense of unease and sliding rules of reality with aplomb, at the end becoming such an important and oppressive piece of the experience that it’s almost overwhelming. The pounding of the music, thumping in your ears as Natalie Portman’s Lena is confronted with…something. It’s horrific and disturbing and absolutely titillating. Their music felt as alien as the experiences of the ill-fated expeditionary force centering were having, and it added all the more to the film’s high quality.
Avengers: Infinity War is one of the best films of the year. It wildly exceeded my expectations for what the folks in charge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were willing to do in their sandbox, but I was most surprised at how integral the score was to the experience.
Marvel has historically a pretty spotty record with its scores. Its movies may be by and large great, but no Marvel tune is remembered the way John Williams’ Superman theme is. But more than simply not being memorable, oftentimes the scores feel relegated to the background of the films’ mixes, not really being noticeable until the credits, when the music gets to finally take center stage.
This isn’t so in the Russo Brothers’ Infinity War. Alan Silvestri gives a commanding score, one that informs scenes and arcs and is even used to supplant sound altogether on more than one occasion. There are sweeping moments of heroism and heart-breaking tragedies, all fully realized in the music as well as on screen. The gut punch of the film comes near the middle of the credits, when we see “The Avengers” slowly fade to dust as the theme Silvestri himself wrote for the first Avengers is slowly and quietly plunked out on a piano.
(Silvestri also really knocked it out of the park in Ready Player One but I’ve already carried on a while. My dude had a good year)
Ryan Roch – Miles Morales’ Rocky Moment
I’m a lifelong Spider-Man guy. Before I remember much of the minutia and the lore and the empty machismo-driven sense of entitled ownership that so often seems to follow around characters in spandex, I remember a deep connection to a teenager in a mask trying his best to help others, because it’s what you do. It can hurt and it can scare you and you’ll almost never feel like you’re actually up to it, but you do it anyway because it’s right. For me it was Peter Parker. For a lot of kids born in the last 10 years, it’s gonna be Miles Morales.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and it’s much deserved, for a lot of reasons I’m not going to get into here. All I have for you today is this perfect moment. The moment when Miles Morales knows he’s Spider-Man. Everything about this is The Best Thing. The way his family cheers him on from within his own head. The way he breaks the glass. The way his costume is a perfect mixture of the classic iconography and his own wonderful style. The way that Aunt May lends a hand. The way that he still stumbles just enough (because you’re never ready). And the way that after the preceding events, every triumphant second of it feels absolutely earned. This movie may or may not win anything on Oscar Sunday. But Miles’ little ‘Rocky Run’ has already earned a spot in my heart for one of the best cinematic moments of the last decade. I feel this clip deep in my soul.
Go get ‘em, Spider-Man.
That’s all for this special edition of Things We’re Digging! Be sure to check out our future editions as we see what everyone here has been appreciating lately. And stop on down in the comments to let us know what 2018 film deserved more awards love than it got.