Oscars 2022 Spotlight: Nightmare Alley
Del Toro, a self professed favorite Director of all time for me personally, is no stranger to awards season. It wasn’t that long ago that Shape of Water defied the odds, perhaps acknowledging the Director more than the film itself, winning Best Picture. Oddly enough Nightmare Alley is the more accessible film, especially given it is a remake of a familiar title. However, no one, or at least very few predicted Nightmare Alley to earn a spot in this years nominations, save for maybe Production. So when it managed to crack the Best Picture line up it left many in a state of shock and surprise. I for one was elated. Not because I think it has a chance at winning Best Picture, rather because of my love for both the film and the Director.
The original version is a 1947 film Directed by Edmund Goulding. In comparison Gouldings version is far more didactic in nature trading visuals for a straightforward, practically minded, conversationally driven character lead film noir. It is a very good film to be sure, despite it originally debutng as a flop with the box office and critics, with the unfolding mystery and the twists and turns and the black and white lending it a classic feel. What Del Toro does, and what makes a strong argument for it having a reason to exist, is trade on the didactic nature and practical film noir approach for a more decidedly visual and neo-noirish approach that really immerses the story in an imagined world. This world builidng exercise is a big part of what sets Del Toro apart in general, and here he uses it to tease not only the darker edges of the story to the surface, but also the story’s spiritual focus and its existential concern. The film is big on imagery and metaphor and uses this to really explore the essential tensions that the original merely tabled, especially where it comes to themes of forgiveness, restitution, and retribution. I genuinely rank this among his best, and its a film that I think rewards multiple viewings, especially in order to appreciate the second of two phenomenal performances by Bradley Cooper this year (the second being Licorice Pizza).
The Oscar Story:
In total Nightmare Alley gained four nominations- Best Picture, Cinematography, Costume Design, Production Design. The below the line categories are actually a pretty strong representation and its hard not to think that the Best Picture nom will give it the boost it needs to walk away with something. It won’t win Best Picture, and early signs point to Cruella being the popular choice in Costume Design (Cruella is also contending for Makeup and Hairstyling against the arguable front runner The Eyes of Tammy Faye). Out of cinematography and Production Design I would say the category it has the best chance at upsetting is Production Design. I said elswhere that this is most likely where I see West Side Story earning a win to anchor its likely Best Supporting Actress award (for Ariana DeBose), but don’t be suprised if Nightmare Alley throws Oscar pools, predictions and bets for a loop here. I just think, espescially now that Dune took the trophy home in the cinematographers voting branch this past Tuesday, that this is Dune’s to lose, and if it did lose it would be to The Power of the Dog, another likely place for the acadamy to support the expected win for Jane Campion in the Directors spot. One caveat to both of these categories as well- Del Toro’s decision to re-release the film in black and white, which I haven’t had the chance to see yet, could also pay dividends here, especially since response to the black and white version has been overwhelmingly positive.