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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Oscars 2019: Six reasons why 'The Favourite' doesn't deserve its 10 nominations

The film has already picked up plenty of wins from other award shows, but can we say it merits all of its nominations from the Academy?

Emma Stone in the film 'The Favourite'. Yorgos Lanthimos / 20th Century Fox
Emma Stone in the film 'The Favourite'. Yorgos Lanthimos / 20th Century Fox

Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is generating plenty of hype with its barnstorming 10 nominations for this Sunday’s Academy Awards, but we shouldn’t overlook the fact that, sitting politely in the corner watching all the fuss, is another film that's also been nominated 10 times and has already been giving Roma a run for its money in the curtain raising pre-Oscar awards.

Read more: Oscar-nominated 'The Favourite' has UAE cinema release pulled

The Favourite already beat Roma in terms of Golden Globe nominations, with five nominations to Roma’s three, although on the night Roma pipped the awards count by 2-1. At the Baftas, however, The Favourite really came into its own, with a whopping 12 nominations to Roma’s seven, and an eventual seven wins to Roma’s lowly four.

Of course, the Oscars don’t always follow the other ceremonies too closely, or even at all, and who knows – BlackKklansman could triumph on the night in a wave of post #OscarsSoWhite diversification.

But, if we assume general opinion to be correct on this occasion, and the night does turn out to be a stand off between the black-and-white Mexican art house piece and the black British period piece – here’s why we don’t think The Favourite should be the favourite.

1) It’s not even Yorgos Lanthimos’ best film

First of all, let me be very clear that The Favourite is a great film, and that I am a huge fan of Yorgos Lanthimos – he’s probably my favourite director to emerge over the last decade or so.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a 2017 psychological horror film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, from a screenplay by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a 2017 psychological horror film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, from a screenplay by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou.

His neglect at the hands of the Oscars committee up until this point has been mystifying, with just two, unsuccessful, nominations for Best Foreign Language Film for 2009’s Dogtooth and for Best Screenplay for 2015’s The Lobster to his name prior to The Favourite’s success.

The passing over of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, for me the best film of 2017, was nothing short of criminal.

But therein lies the problem: The Favourite is good, but best film of the year? It isn’t even Yorgos Lanthimos’ best film.

It’s a kind of watered-down version of what Lanthimos does best, and while it’s very satisfying to see the director subvert the traditional period piece with his dark and twisted eye, you can’t help feeling that the Academy have suddenly sat up and taken notice precisely because it is a period piece, with British actors and corsets and everything the voters like.

It’s quirky, yes, but Lanthimos is best when he travels far beyond quirky into the realms of the certifiably insane.

There’s doubtless an argument to be made that if he needed to move a little closer to the mainstream to achieve this sort of recognition from the Academy, then so be it. But if that’s the case, why is his main challenger a black-and-white, stream-of-memory piece that takes place largely in a barely spoken Native American language? Nobody asked Alfonso Cuaron to dilute his art, so why should Yorgos Lanthimos? You can put a bodice on a lobster, but it’s still a lobster.

The solution? I think it might be best for everyone if we brushed off Sacred Deer (it released quite late in 2017 anyway, no one will notice), resubmitted it, and declared Best Picture a tie between that and Roma.

2) The actress nominations don't add up

Olivia Colman’s performance is masterful, there’s no doubt about that, and she’s already added a Bafta and a Golden Globe to her trophy cabinet in recognition of that.

As a long time fan of her work in Brit comedies like Peep Show and Green Wing, I couldn't be more pleased for her.

Emma Stone and Olivia Colman in 'The Favourite'. Olivia Colman is up for Best Actress. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film.
Emma Stone and Olivia Colman in 'The Favourite'. Olivia Colman is up for Best Actress. Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film.

But the role of Queen Anne really isn’t even the leading role in the film. The crux of the story centres around Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz’s scheming cousins and their attempts to curry favour with the ailing monarch.

Indeed, the Oscars’ structure doesn’t really even allow for films such as this, which subvert the traditional lead actor/actress roles with glee. If we try and fit The Favourite into a traditional Hollywood narrative, we should perhaps put Weisz up for Best Actor, as the dashing young plotting bachelor, leeching money off a doting, elderly queen; Stone as Best Actress as the sweet-cheeked, seemingly innocent, young girl who comes in and disturbs the status quo, and Colman as Best Supporting Actress as the object of the pair’s machinations.

Or, by way of another tidy solution, do away with the traditional actor/actress divide and award all three a catch-all Oscar for Best Lead Cast. Black Panther can have Best Supporting Cast by virtue of sheer volume.

3) It’s filmed in a palace – so what?

That is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. In fact, it’s filmed in not one, but two palaces: Hampton Court Palace and Hatfield House (okay, so that’s technically one palace and one stately home, but let’s not nitpick). And Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton are up for an award for Best Production Design.

Olivia Colman in the film The Favourite. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima / 20th Century Fox
Olivia Colman in the film The Favourite. Photo by Atsushi Nishijima / 20th Century Fox

Now I wasn’t on set, so I may have missed some key facts, but when it comes to designing a set that looks like a palace, I’m presuming that by filming in a palace, a lot of the work has already been done for you. The sets are indeed impressive, and I’m sure some excellent dressing went on around the edges, but ultimately, it’s already a palace.

When compared with First Man, whose designers had to recreate the moon, or Black Panther, where an entire super hi-tech futuristic city was required lurking under the African tundra, turning a palace into a palace isn’t rocket science.

4) The obsession with aristocratic, impractical clothing

The Favourite is, of course, up for a Best Costume Design Oscar. I say "of course", because it's a royal period piece.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos speaks to James Smith and Rachel Weisz in costume on the set of 'The Favourite'. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.
Director Yorgos Lanthimos speaks to James Smith and Rachel Weisz in costume on the set of 'The Favourite'. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

The costumes may be historically accurate, sumptuous, and all those other words associated with period dramas, but the Academy sometimes seems to be contractually obliged to nominate period dramas just for the sheer worthiness of their very existence. Among the winners this century alone, we find Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, The Duchess, The Young Victoria and Anna Karenina.

That’s not to say The Favourite doesn’t deserve the nomination – a lot of effort and skill has clearly gone into the costumes, but sometimes the Academy’s obsession with anything old, impractical to wear, aristocratic and European can become maddening.

And once again, the Academy only seem to take real note of one of the most exciting filmmakers working today when he puts his cast in corsets.

5) The script was written by someone else

The movie is also up for a Best Original Screenplay award, and this one the Academy will doubtless award it. Why? Because Lanthimos didn’t write it. For the first time in a major movie, the director was working from someone else’s script, one that Deborah Davis originally conceived two decades ago.

Yorgos Lanthimos has much better films to his name than 'The Favourite'. AP.
Yorgos Lanthimos has much better films to his name than 'The Favourite'. AP.

So Dogtooth, The Lobster, Sacred Deer, all of which Lanthimos wrote or co-wrote? Passed over on the night (or ignored altogether in Sacred Deer’s case). But the second Lanthimos takes on a third party script, however, it gets nominated.

If it wins on Sunday, we’re going to have to start thinking about some heinous anti-Lanthimos conspiracy in the bowels of the Dolby Theatre.

6) It's clearly not as beautiful as Roma, but there is a technical loophole

We’re probably not qualified to comment here, but visually pleasing though The Favourite is, it’s hard to see anyone but Alfonso Cuaron picking up the Best Cinematography award.

Roma is a true work of art, a feast for the eyes, and if The Favourite loses out here, it will be entirely justified, and for once, not down to the aforementioned, and entirely fictional, Hollywood cabal.

Andrew Lowe, Tony McNamara, Deborah Davis, Lee Magiday, Ceci Dempsey, Yorgos Lanthimos and Ed Guiney hold their awards for Outstanding British Film for 'The Favourite' at the Baftas. Reuters.
Andrew Lowe, Tony McNamara, Deborah Davis, Lee Magiday, Ceci Dempsey, Yorgos Lanthimos and Ed Guiney hold their awards for Outstanding British Film for 'The Favourite' at the Baftas. Reuters.

As for editing, The Favourite has no competition from Roma here as it isn’t nominated, so perhaps this is the award that can swing it. Only 10 films without a Best Editing nomination have ever won the Best Picture award, so perhaps if The Favourite can push on and pick up this prize, that could be the catalyst for a snowball effect that would see The Favourite sweep the board, crushing Roma and all else before it. In the end, perhaps The Favourite could prove to be the favourite after all.

The Oscars take place on Sunday, February 24

Updated: February 21, 2019 02:31 PM

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