A legal thriller in the tradition of The Verdict and The Insider.
I am beyond thrilled to congratulate Steve James, one of our greatest documentarians, on his well-deserved, first-ever Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. His nominated film, "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail," is a prime example of the masterfully intimate storytelling James has crafted throughout his career in landmark films such as "Hoop Dreams" (earning James an Oscar nod for Best Editing), "The Interrupters" and "Life Itself." James and producer Mark Mitten made this film out of a sense of justice when they learned that of all of the banks that committed shenanigans during the economic housing crisis of 2008, the only one that was prosecuted was a small bank owned by a Chinese-American family. All of the other banks were deemed "too big to fail."
Kartemquin Films, the incredible documentary company behind all of the aforementioned titles, earned its first two Oscar nods this morning when the nominations were announced, snagging another for Laura Checkoway's nonfiction short, "Eddie+Edith," about the oldest interracial couple in the United States.
Joining James in the Documentary category are two other films I loved, Yance Ford's "Strong Island," an emotionally wrenching tale of the pain caused to Ford's family when his brother's killer was allowed to go free. It is all the more complicated because Ford's brother was African-American, and his killer was white. The iconic Agnès Varda received her first Oscar nomination for "Faces Places," along with her co-director, the artist JR. Ironically, Ms. Varda has earned this nomination in the same year she received an Honorary Oscar statuette.
All four of the titles that tied on my list for the best film of 2018 are nominated here, including Jordan Peele's "Get Out" (nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Daniel Kaluuya), Best Original Screenplay); Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" (nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Sally Hawkins), Best Supporting Actor (Richard Jenkins), Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Prodcution Design, Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing); Luca Guadagnino's "Call Me by Your Name" (Best Picture, Best Actor (Timothée Chalamet), Best Adapted Screenplay); and Ruben Östlund "The Square" (Best Foreign Language Film).
Jordan Peele is the fifth black director ever nominated for Best Director, while "Lady Bird"'s Greta Gerwig is the fifth woman ever nominated for Best Director (a historic category this year, without question). "Mudbound"'s Rachel Morrison also made history, becoming the first female cinematographer ever nominated for Best Cinematography.
I am also pleased for Denzel Washington, who earned his ninth Oscar nomination this morning for his lead performance in Dan Gilroy's "Roman J. Israel, Esq." It was refreshing to see what he brought to this role of a committed civil rights lawyer who is on the autism spectrum. It stretched our image of him as an actor. One person I would've loved to see nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category is Michael Stulhbarg, who delivered great work in three Best Picture nominees, "Call Me by Your Name," "The Post" and "The Shape of Water."
Nominated alongside "The Square" is another of my favorite films from last year's Cannes Film Festival, Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Loveless." And I was thrilled to see James Mangold's "Logan" become the first superhero movie to receive a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. Mangold had previously credited Roger for inspiring his approach to portraying a more complex and vulnerable Wolverine. Congratulations to all of these deserving nominees, and a special congratulations to Steve James!
An Aside: I am at the Sundance Film Festival serving on the US Documentary Jury. But among the Jurors on various other juries is Octavia Spencer, Ruben Östlund, and Rachel Morrison. And here showing his new documentary series "American To Me," is Steve James. So as you can imagine, there is much celebration here in the mountains of Park City.
The 90th Academy Awards will be televised at 6:30pm CST on Sunday, March 4th, on ABC. Click here to visit the official Oscar site. For a full list of nominees, check out Susan Wloszczyna's report here.
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