Oscar Watch: Ammonite

When Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan are romancing one another in a 19th century set costume drama, you better believe there’s going to be Oscar speculation. This is for good reason. Between the two performers, they’ve collected a staggering 11 Academy nods. There’s just one victory among them.

Francis Lee’s Ammonite has premiered this weekend at the Toronto Film Festival. As mentioned, it casts Winslet as a paleontologist who strikes the fancy of Ronan’s wealthy wife. It is Lee’s follow-up to his hailed 2017 pic God’s Own Country.

Critical reception from up north does include some rave reviews. There are others that are decidedly more mixed and even negative. The Rotten Tomatoes score of 64% puts a Best Picture and Directing and Original Screenplay nomination into serious question. Right now, I would say it’s certainly iffy.

Tech nods like Costume Design, Score, and Production Design are feasible. Yet the main chatter centers on the leads. The likelihood is that Winslet will contend in lead Actress with Ronan in supporting. Winslet would be scoring her eighth nomination in 25 years. Her lone win was for 2008’s The Reader. Based on buzz, she appears poised to grab it. That said, let’s keep an eye on how competition plays out in the coming weeks. Frances McDormand (Nomadland) seems like a shoo-in for inclusion. There’s other potential heavy hitters in the wings, including Viola Davis (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Michele Pfeiffer (French Exit), and Jennifer Hudson (Respect) to name just three.

Ronan has achieved 4 nominations since 2007 for Atonement, Brooklyn, Lady Bird, and Little Women. She’s yet to walk to the podium. There’s a general feeling that her time is coming and I have had her ranked #1 in Supporting Actress since I began my weekly prediction posts last month. Now I’m wondering whether she even makes the final five. It is still a strong possibility, but I highly doubt you’ll see her atop the estimates this coming Thursday. I would say right now that 2020’s Supporting Actress winner probably hasn’t her movie screened yet.

Bottom line: the reception for Ammonite in Toronto raises more questions than it answers about its chances. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Oscar History: 2006

Rocky over Taxi Driver. Ordinary People over Raging Bull. Dances with Wolves over GoodFellas. These are all examples where, in hindsight, pictures directed by Martin Scorsese and the auteur himself probably should have received Oscars wins and not just nominations. In 2002, Scorsese’s Gangs of New York was seen as a Best Picture frontrunner until Chicago stole its thunder. The same held true two years later with The Aviator until Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby had a late surge and took the prize. By 2006, Scorsese was undoubtedly the most acclaimed director whose films had never won the gold statue. And neither had he.

This would finally come to an end with The Departed, his crime thriller that won Best Picture and this kicks off my 2006 Oscar History.

The other four nominees were Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s Babel, Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris’s Little Miss Sunshine, and Stephen Frears’s The Queen. The voters got it right. The Departed was the Best Picture of the year.

As for other pictures I would’ve considered: Alfonso Cuaron’s terrific Children of Men, Guillermo del Toro’s visual feast Pan’s Labyrinth, the Ryan Gosling drama Half Nelson, and Todd Field’s Little Children. And for an outside the box pic – why not Casino Royale, which brought the Bond franchise back in grand fashion and ranks as my 2nd all-time 007 pic after From Russia with Love?

Scorsese, as mentioned before, would win Director over Inarritu, Eastwood, Frears, and Paul Greengrass for United 93. Once again – my list would’ve found room for Cuaron and del Toro.

In the Best Actor race, Forest Whitaker expectedly won for his performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Other nominees: Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond (many thought he’d get nominated instead for Departed), Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson, Peter O’Toole for Venus (his final nomination), and Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness.

Once again, my ballot might’ve listed Daniel Craig for his electric take on James Bond. Others to consider: Clive Owen (Children of Men), Aaron Eckhart (Thank You for Smoking), or Matt Damon’s work in The Departed.

No surprise in the Best Actress race as Helen Mirren’s work as Queen Elizabeth II was honored in The Queen over Penelope Cruz (Volver), Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal), Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada), and Kate Winslet (Little Children).

That’s a strong Actress category, but I would’ve also had Natalie Portman’s fine performance in V for Vendetta included.

The only true surprise at the 2006 Oscars occurred in the Supporting Actor category where Eddie Murphy’s acclaimed work in Dreamgirls was expected to win. Instead the Academy honored Alan Arkin’s performance in Little Miss Sunshine. Other nominees: Jackie Earle Haley (Little Children), Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond), and Mark Wahlberg (The Departed).

Instead of Wahlberg, many believed it would be Jack Nicholson for Departed that received the nomination. I was cool with it – considering Nicholson had already won three times before and this marked Wahlberg’s first nod. Other names I would have possibly included: Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine), Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada), Michael Sheen (The Queen), and for his brilliant comedic work – John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

Jennifer Hudson had the distinction of being the first “American Idol” contestant turned Oscar winner with her lauded role in Dreamgirls – winning out over Babel actresses Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi, young Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine, and Cate Blanchett in Notes on a Scandal.

My list would have absolutely included Shareeka Epps with her fabulous work in Half Nelson and probably Vera Farmiga in The Departed.

And that’s your 2006 Oscar history! I’ll be back soon with 2007 where another beloved director (s) would take home their first Oscar gold.