Horror movies have been having a killer year at the box office. From huge smashes like Smile and Halloween Ends to indie successes like Terrifier 2 and Pearl, the genre has dragged audiences to the theaters despite all those real-world anxieties out there, offering us an escape via people on-screen who are almost always having a way worse time than we are in the audience. But as we head into the annual glad-handing-fest known as awards season, money is one thing, respect something else. So, can a horror movie — specifically the gory, cannibal-centric Bones and All — catch Oscar's eye?
Giving love to horror movies has always been a big ask from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences and their Oscars. For every Kathy Bates in Misery, there are thousands of Toni Collettes in Hereditary that go unacknowledged. Heading into their 94th year, having passed out hundreds upon hundreds of statues, only 18 horror films have won any prizes in any category in their entire history. It’s shameful! Makes you wanna bang your head into the wall (or in Collette's case, slowly decapitate yourself while somehow clinging to the wall).
Enter Luca Guadagnino's cannibal-romance Bones and All. Starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell as teenage runaways who eat people, the film's an atmospheric and surprisingly tender love story that tackles themes of Americana and queerness with an understated beauty and intelligence. Ever the Euro-auteur even as he courts Hollywood's graces, Guadagnino has cited as primary influences the legendary photographer William Eggleston's photos of sparse parking lots at twilight and Agnes Varda's 1985 film Vagabond. An adaptation of a 2015 YA novel by author Camille DeAngelis, Bones and All, in its stillness and seriousness, is about as far away from Twilight tonally as one could wander. It’s My Own Private Idaho with mutilation.
And yet the subject of awards attention is very much on the filmmaker’s mind. In an interview with Variety, he brought up the granddaddy of Cannibal/Oscar Overlap, Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, which took home Oscars for Best Leading Actor and Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture. Perhaps overstating his case a wee bit, he said, “In the history of the Oscars, cannibalism has been a gigantic plus. There's a very tough novel, the talented script, and Sir Anthony Hopkins as the unforgettable cannibal… I'm not comparing myself or us to that masterpiece, but that was a love story like Bones and All."
Despite critical acclaim, Luca Guadagnino’s Oscar history is deceptively sparse.
The last time Guadagnino headed to the Oscars was also the last time he worked with Chalamet, for 2017's Call Me By Your Name. That modern masterpiece was nominated for four awards, including Best Picture, and won a statue for James Ivory's script. Before that, Guadagnino's sumptuous drama I Am Love garnered only a Best Costumes nomination. And that's all.
No deserved nominations came for Tilda Swinton in her multiple collaborations with the director; nothing for the criminally under-appreciated Suspiria remake in 2018. And perhaps most egregious of all, no Best Supporting Actor nomination for Ralph Fiennes's epic work in 2015's A Bigger Splash.
Mark Rylance could be Bones and All's best bet for Oscar glory.
Coincidentally enough, the actor who took home that 2015 Best Supporting Actor could be Bones and All’s best chance at an Oscar nomination in 2023. Mark Rylance, who won for his performance in Bridge of Spies, steals his every scene in Bones and All. He plays Sully, an elderly, squeaky-voiced cannibal who refers to himself in the third person and has a penchant for ponytails. A enigmatic figure, he crosses paths early and often with the movies' doomed young lovers Lee and Maren, played by Chalamet and Russell. At the two screenings of the film I've attended, the audiences have enthusiastically lapped up Rylance's colorfully bizarre and terrifying turn, which is topped off with a literal feather in his cap.
Rylance, a stage legend with three Tonys to his name, definitely has a taste for the theatrical. There doesn't seem to be an ounce of fear in him that it might seem ridiculous, going this big and this weird. On occasion, those play-to-the-back-row instincts have bitten him in the bum when it's come to his on-screen turns. Look no further than the big-toothed tech billionaire that he played in Adam McKay's polarizing satire Don't Look Up last year. That performance became a meme to those who thought that movie was a mess (this writer included). And, superficially at least, his work as Sully in Bones and All does play around in the same heightened register.
But Sully stays on the exact right-side of the ridiculous. Meant as a big blinking warning sign to Maren specifically about what this outsider's lifestyle can turn you into, he's a curdled well of loneliness and rage — a black hole of neediness that will never let go. After years of solo living, his idiosyncrasies have multiplied like cancer cells, and his desperation for connection, once awoken, becomes all-encompassing. An outcast from society, Sully is the wrong path personified; he's the dangerous weirdo the world can twist us into if we let it. And he’s scarily unforgettable.
Oscar sometimes loves itself a dangerous ham.
It's not like the Academy hasn't embraced this sort of over-the-top work before. Guadagnino brings up Anthony Hopkins's Hannibal Lecter for a reason. The iconic actor won his first Academy Award for that boldly bizarre performance. But this captivating creep is a recognizable type for which AMPAS has fallen for before in the Supporting Actor category.
I will do Rylance the favor of not comparing him to Stanley Tucci's Oscar-nominated child killer in The Lovely Bones (even though it's apt). Instead, let's focus on deserving nominees like Al Pacino in Dick Tracy or Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire, as well as deserving winners like Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men and Martin Landau in Ed Wood. Hell, Christoph Waltz's two Best Supporting wins – for Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds and Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained – make the flesh-slurping Sully seem downright pedestrian.
If I had my way, Bones and All would be competitive across the board, from David Kajganich's gorgeous script to the mournful score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, to the stunning cinematography from relative newcomer Arseni Khachaturan. (Go see his previous work on Dea Kulumbegashvili's 2020 film Beginning, and you'll see we have ourselves a legend in the making). But, with all my apologies to Guadagnino and company, I rarely have my way. And given Oscar's spotty history with the genre, I wouldn’t be shocked if a nomination for Rylance is the best we can hope for. Yet even that might be one pile of innards too much of a reach.
I'd say I'm crossing my fingers for it, but, well, after seeing what this movie has in store for fingers, I'm keeping all of those safely hidden behind my back.
Bones and All is now playing in theaters.