The 2020 Oscar nominations brought a ton of surprises. Perhaps one of the biggest was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ overwhelming support for 1917. Directed by past Oscar winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty), the film had barely hit theaters when the nominees were announced.
Yet, 1917 — a Universal release — came through for the studio contending with two costly flops in Cats and Dolittle. Remarkably, Mendes’ film received 10 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and several technical awards. However, despite this support, 1917 was still snubbed in one particular category. Here’s why.
‘1917’ has had a great awards season
Mendes is an acclaimed filmmaker with several beloved films under his belt. Even so, no one expected 1917 to dominate so much of awards season the way it has. Early buzz centered on the spectacle of the film — which simulates the experience of one continuous shot throughout — but not its artistry.
1917 could have just as easily been more of a commercial success than a legitimate awards player. After all, up until the Golden Globe Awards, 1917 was something of an unknown quantity. Few had seen it, aside from critics’ groups who had received screener DVDs for awards consideration.
Yet, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded it two of the night’s biggest prizes. Mendes won Best Director, and 1917 took home the Best Motion Picture — Drama trophy. Suddenly, 1917 leap-frogged to the top of the Best Picture race. With 1917 a newly anointed Oscar frontrunner, the academy still missed the chance to recognize the film’s secret weapon.
George MacKay deserved a Best Actor nomination
Without a doubt, watching 1917 is an immersive experience. The film is light on plot — it follows two soldiers on a race against time to get from one place to another — but rich on imagery and theme. Carried by Thomas Newman’s score and Roger Deakins’ cinematography, 1917 is a deceptively simple movie on its surface.
What elevates the film are the performances of actors George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman. These two up-and-coming stars both deliver breakthrough performances in 1917. Yet, their work has been overshadowed by the technical achievement of Mendes and his team.
In particular, MacKay emerges as the heart of the movie. Without the emotional anchor his character provides, 1917 doesn’t carry the same level of intimacy or visceral intensity. We’re lost in the chaos with these two characters throughout, and it especially falls on MacKay’s understated performance to make audiences feel every step of the perilous journey ahead.
How will ‘1917’ do at Oscars 2020?
MacKay fell victim to the competitive Best Actor race. But 1917 still has 10 other chances to claim Oscar gold. Right now, the film remains hotly in contention for Best Picture and Best Director. Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is perhaps its biggest challenger in both categories. It also has a shot at Best Original Score, especially considering Thomas Newman has been nominated 15 times with no wins.
The easiest victories the academy will probably hand to 1917 are in the technical categories. Its simulated one-shot style could prove too enticing to not award the film Best Visual Effects. Plus, the two sound categories and production design feel like possibilities as well. Most of all though, 1917 is all but guaranteed a win for Deakins, who only won his first Oscar in 2018.
The Oscars’ snub of MacKay is unfortunate. But it’s reassuring that a film as bold and precise as 1917 earned so much Academy Awards attention. Without MacKay, the film would have felt much more like the “video game movie” some are accusing it of being. So here’s hoping anyone who wins an award for 1917 calls out how instrumental MacKay’s performance is in making the whole film work.
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