How “Eighth Grade” and “Sorry To Bother You” are sleeper award films and the start of an early awards season
By Dennis Begley
Last year the awards season was certainly an interesting time in cinema and Hollywood. It was during the time the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements were at their highest. A movie about the worst movie of all-time garnered awards. A former basketball star won his first Oscar before Gary Oldman by about an hour at most, and we saw a sci-fi romance about a fish man and lady in love win Best Picture.
The Shape of Water winning Best Picture wasn’t what made last year’s awards season different though. In the end it may have been about a fish creature and young woman falling in love, but it was still a very Oscar formulaic movie; a period piece; a love story; a love song to old Hollywood and old musicals. All these things are a best picture make.
The two surprise loves of the Academy and awards season last year were Get Out, directed and written by Jordan Peele, and Lady Bird directed and written by Greta Gerwig. In past years neither of these films would’ve been Oscar contenders. Get Out, a horror film that was half psychological thriller and half social satire and commentary on race relations and the hypocrisy of the liberal elite. Meanwhile, Lady Bird was a coming of age story about a young girl in her Senior year at catholic school ready to leave her town for a new place while arguing with her Mother through all of it.
Get Out before last year would’ve seemed too risky, too ambitious. The idea of a Blumhouse movie being anything more than a popcorn B horror flick and the fact that any horror film in general would be an awards film as they’re not favored in those circles, was admittedly a bit precarious. Also, this seemed a bit impossible to pull off how could one write a commentary while also scaring us and entertaining us. Essentially Jordan Peele had to pull off the craft of being both a teacher educating us about issues while still doing what the job of a filmmaker is which is to work in the entertainment industry and entertain us. Plus, an attack on the white Democrats which makes up 95 percent of the Academy as well as his past as a sketch comedy writer and director on “Key and Peele” were certainly things that could’ve haunted him. It even did at points. Much of the Academy didn’t even vote for it to be on any of the nominee ballots despite having not even seen it based on bias’ against it, not wanting to take Peele as a serious director and writer because of his sketch comedy writer and worrying Get Out would be another Purge; a great idea that could be a great social commentary that strangles itself in its own overtness.
Despite all of this, Jordan Peele pulled it off. A Blumhouse horror film released in February of all months turned him into a superstar overnight. His passion project was so beautifully directed and well written and basked in its own subtlety and metaphors and messages without drowning itself that we were given one of the greatest horror films of all time. This earned Jordan Peele a Writers Guild Award for best screenplay and the Oscar for best screenplay as a debut director and writer.
Lady Bird before last year would’ve seemed a bit played out. Girl coming of age? We’ve seen it! Mean Girls, Juno, Sixteen Candles. We don’t need another one. Which. although untrue. put the odds against it. Plus. the fact that female coming of age films are profoundly turned down for awards much higher than male coming of age stories (Lady Bird and Juno are the only coming of age movies of recent years with female nominees that got Oscar awareness. Moonlight, Call Me by Your Name, and Boyhood are just a few from the past three years of male lead coming of age films that garnered much attention) didn’t exactly give much confidence to Lady Bird coming in.
Yet Greta Gerwig was also able to defy odds by giving us a realistic coming of age film with a strong female lead which are in short supply especially for teenage girls trying to find a relatable character. Plus, an impeccable performance by Saiorse Ronan turned this unconventional coming of age story into a dark horse award film winning the Golden Globe awards for Best Female Lead Actress and Best Musical or Comedy.
Which leads us to this year. Two critically acclaimed films Eighth Grade and Sorry to Bother You are very similar to these two films while also being completely original but pays thanks to their older siblings for breaking barriers for them. Because of this, they might just find themselves in the winner’s circle come February.
Sorry to Bother You much like Get Out was an amazing social satire and commentary that was completely original and new. A film that packed so many metaphors and attacked multiple social issues such as capitalism, people of color having to work much harder to get the benefits white people are simply born with, and the culture of Oakland. It’s one of the best pieces of absurdism work in the 21st century and the only one that even comes close to competing with it in this sense is its older brother Get Out. Sorry to Bother You has changed the movie genre in its own way much like Get Out did and this is a film that deserves to be looked upon by The Academy.
Eighth Grade was as original as it came for a true coming of age story. It gave audiences a strong female lead and arguably an even more likable lead than Lady Bird’s Lady Bird in young Kayla played by the amazing Elsie Fisher. It also modernized the coming of age narrative better than any previous form of media has done. The idea of technology influencing the way kids grow up hasn’t been told well except for in cyberbullying (which yes happens but is hardly the most influential part of the social media experience) and Eighth Grade did it so well. The amazing writing and direction of Bo Burnham, who is sort of the Jordan Peele of this year as a debut director who got his start in comedy (stand up for Burnham, sketch for Peele), in his debut film with an excellent performance by Fisher made for a new coming of age film that still reminds us of the greatness that was Lady Bird and even the John Hughes films which may have not gotten the respect they deserved by The Academy but are all classics decades after they were made.
Summer films usually never get award buzz. Award season is relatively reserved for November through January. Get Out changed that last year by being released in February and let’s hope these summer hits keep up the trend set by their genre siblings.
Dennis Begley is a Staff Writer for The Comment