WEIRDLAND: Humanistic Dissertations: Downsizing snubbed, The Shape of Water 13 Oscar nominations

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Humanistic Dissertations: Downsizing snubbed, The Shape of Water 13 Oscar nominations

Viacom’s Paramount emerged with no Oscar nominations on Tuesday for the first time since 2003. What’s worse, it’s the first time in 15 years that any of the major Hollywood studios (or their indie divisions, including the now-dormant Paramount Vantage) has gotten blanked by the Academy. Paramount came into this Oscar season with high hopes for a trio of high-profile and starry films, including Alexander Payne’s high-concept “Downsizing” with Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig, director George Clooney’s ’50-set drama “Suburbicon” (also starring Damon) and Darren Aronofsky’s genre-defying Jennifer Lawrence film “mother!” A rep for Paramount declined to comment. Source:

In Suburbicon Matt Damon delivers a wonderfully dry, slyly vicious performance. Julianne Moore’s perma-grinning housewife could be one of the nasty friends of her character in Far From Heaven.  Why Suburbicon has been so poorly received by US critics and audiences is a mystery. Sure, its politics are painted in broad strokes, but then the dominant ideology it targets is hardly a paragon of nuance. Clooney’s balancing act is between heightened style and seriousness of theme, and it works, lending the film a consistent clarity.

One could argue that all of Alexander Payne’s major works – Election, Sideways, The Descendants– are about man’s search for meaning. And Downsizing, his most expansive and high concept film to date, is no different. It’s a movie about small people, but has a very big heart. We have the driest opening imaginable: a science lecture. Dr Jorgen Asbjørnsen presents a solution to humankind’s growing population crisis: shrink everyone to five inches tall so that they use a fraction of the resources of the “big” people. Jump forward a decade and 3% have made the transition. The enterprise has become commercialised. It’s a tempting offer: plough your meagre savings into this irreversible process, and watch as your hundred grand becomes ten million. A life of luxury in Leisureland, North America’s foremost “micrommunity”.

Paul (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) are struggling to upsize. They’re still living in the apartment of his late mother. Paul’s done the math and he can’t give her the life she desires. So they choose to make the journey to Leisureland. But then Paul wakes up small, only to find out Audrey never went through with it. Paul is alone in this startling utopia. Payne throws in a wonderful curveball in the form of Ngoc Lan Tran and the realisation that the same human problems exist down here. The same inequalities and lack of social cohesion. Wealth and comfort are relative at all scales. 

Ngoc is a woman living off leftovers. She unlocks the potential in Paul. “You know things,” she says. She’s looking beyond status – beyond the vanity of Paul’s failed medical ambitions – to the core of who he truly is. Ngoc, perfectly played by Hong Chau, is an explosion of pure feeling. Confrontational and unfiltered, and often downright rude, she’s not so much a pixie dream girl as a pixie nightmare girl. Payne embraces the sociological and philosophical questions of his creation. A distant commune, hidden in a tiny fjord, looks like a pastel painting from a religious pamphlet. Going small, says Paul’s old buddy Dave (Jason Sudeikis), isn’t about saving the planet, it’s about saving yourself. He’s not right, but neither is Dr Asbjørnsen, who is trying to save the human race with grand cultural gestures. 

These conflicting outlooks instil Paul with a sense of self-importance, a balloon which only Ngoc can prick. Downsizing isn’t a very funny film, and this is where it may come unstuck at the box office. Just because the trailer insists it’s a whacky, life-affirming comedy doesn’t make it so. Its comedy is a guaranteeing grins rather than belly-laughs. First and foremost this is science fiction. Are the tonal shifts too much? What a pity if it doesn’t find an audience. It is intelligent and heartfelt; fantastical and true. It’s the first great film of 2018. Source:

Hong Chau, who has been nominated for Critics Choice, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for her scene-stealing role in Alexander Payne's social satire Downsizing, said her relationship with Damon was "effortless" while making the film. Speaking to RTÉ Entertainment she said: "I met him on our very first day of shooting. I didn’t have time to go get a coffee with him or anything beforehand. I felt like he’s not some highfalutin Hollywood star. He’s a person who has worked a lot in his life but he’s also very happy to be working still and it’s very apparent when he shows up on set it’s a joy for him to come in to work every morning." "He doesn’t take it for granted", she added. Source:

Perhaps the greatest of The Shape of Water’s many surprises is how extravagantly romantic it is, driven throughout by an all-conquering belief in soulmates as lifelines. The Shape of Water is Guillermo del Toro at the top of his craft — if he were a PhD student, this would be his dissertation. Themes that have resonated disparately in his work are brought together here — the power of popular culture to soothe and support; the strength and value of the unique, weird (or queer); monsters defeated by embracing monstrosity; a united, loving diversity pushing back against a destructive, violent homogeneity; the lesser but insidious evil of allowing evil to flourish through nonaction. Del Toro takes risks that shouldn’t work — a particular sequence in homage to old Hollywood musicals comes to mind — but do.

But overridingly you feel lucky — lucky that something so sincerely sweet, sorrowfully scary and surpassingly strange can exist in this un-wonderful world, and desirous of hanging on to as much of its magic for as long as you can after you reemerge back onto dry land. The Shape of Water is indelible proof that it is not the concepts within popular art — or so-called lowbrow entertainment — that restrict the genre’s emotional resonance, but the complexity of storytelling we use to support those concepts. And, above all, the sincerity we are willing to invest in them. Source:

Oscar Nominations 2018: Could The Shape of Water break a record for Science Fiction? Stanley Kubrick's major disappointment was the beginning of a long Oscar dry spell for sci-fi. Some of the most influential films of the 20th century—2001: A Space OdysseyA Clockwork Orange, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Alien, E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Blade Runner, Cocoon, Back to the Future, Aliens, Jurassic Park—were nominated, but none of them won. The game-changer was the increase from five to ten Best Picture nominees in 2009. Since then, District 9, Avatar, Inception, Her, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian and Arrival have placed within the Best Picture category. Source:

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