Taylor Russell Brings Cannibal Magic to ‘Bones and All’ — Will the Academy Bite?

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You’d think the reunion of Academy Award nominee Timothée Chalamet and his “Call Me by Your Name” director Luca Guadagnino in “Bones and All” would be all anyone could talk about following the film’s premiere last weekend at Telluride and Venice.

Instead, the name on everyone’s lips is going to be Taylor Russell. The up-and-comer, who first gained prominence with her role in “Waves” (2019), takes center stage and devours every morsel of her time on screen. She brings grace and restraint, two qualities that don’t exactly spring to mind when you’re talking about a coming-of-age story about teen cannibals drawn together by mutual blood lust. I only wish I had more faith Oscar voters would give the movie its proper shake, as genre movies always face an uphill climb, no matter how well reviewed or beloved they are by critics and audiences.

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On the last day of the Telluride Film Festival, I like to walk around the event’s annual Labor Day picnic, having chats with the execs, awards strategists and filmmakers about which films struck a chord with them. I was expecting to hear folks swoon for “Women Talking,” a timely drama about abuse from Sarah Polley, or “Empire of Light,” Sam Mendes’ love letter to movies. To my surprise, Guadagnino’s stylistic road trip flick seemed to have a mysterious hold on festival-goers and it was an attraction that spanned cultures and generations.

That’s not to say that “Bones and All” is going to necessarily be a major awards movie. But there’s a lot to admire here. In particular, Russell as Maren, a young woman whose appetite for human flesh prevents her from leading a normal life, proves that she’s a star.  I’d imagine smaller regional critics groups will have no issue handing her a handful of accolades by year’s end, but the stigma that goes with being in a genre picture could prevent her from getting an Oscar nomination. That same prejudice prevented the likes of Toni Collette in “Hereditary” and Scarlett Johansson in “Under the Skin” from getting serious awards traction. Hopefully, the word of mouth and a focused campaign from MGM/UAR can get Russell closer to the Oscar podium.

She’s not the only worthy acting nom from the film as Mark Rylance constructs a masterful interpretation as Sully, an older “eater” who takes a liking to Maren. An Oscar winner for “Bridge of Spies,” Rylance is considered to be one of the greatest living actors. Here, he dives in head first and never comes up for air. The supporting actor lineup would be instantly elevated with his name among its ranks. Michael Stuhlbarg is starting to become the king of one-scene wonders and he delivers another tour de force moment with Chalamet and Russell in this picture that rivals his work in “Call Me By Your Name.”

Director Luca Guadagnino on the set of BONES AND ALL, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.Credit: Yannis Drakoulidis / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures© 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Director Luca Guadagnino on the set of BONES AND ALL, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film.

Chalamet gives a valiant effort with Lee, lending him a swagger and an underlying sense of pain. However, the lead actor field is far too crowded and there’s an argument that a supporting campaign would be more appropriate as the film clearly belongs to Russell.

But how can a horror film like this find its way into the major categories like best picture? The answer is as we’ve seen throughout history – through the artisan categories, where more than 60% of the Academy membership is housed.

As seen in Guadagnino’s previous efforts, his signature style is at the forefront. Calling in cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan, who gives the movie a nostalgic flare that evokes the cult classics like “The Lost Boys.”

Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor are on a roll right now. With two Oscars in hand for “The Social Network” (2010) and “Soul” (2020), they are already in the mix for their work on Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light.” They could also be recognized for their work here. Hildur Guðnadóttir also composed two worthy pieces in “Tar” and “Women Talking.” Could we see a scenario play out where four of the original score spots belong to two sets of composers?

Based on the book by Camille DeAngelis, writer David Kajganich, who penned the divisive “Suspiria” (2018), anchors the fantastical premise in a recognizably human story. And the film has some interesting questions to ask. What are the moral dilemmas faced while living a life governed by unnatural urges? There’s a chance that the literate script could snag an adapted screenplay nomination if the film garners a passionate base of support. I’d love to see Guadagnino slip into the directing lineup, but that’s a steeper hurdle to overcome.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the membership of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has grown more diverse and more adventurous in its taste. But realistically, are Oscar voters going to embrace a film that offers up the image of Rylance sitting in his underwear as he devours a recently deceased old woman?

I’m not sure the Oscars have developed a taste for that sort of thing just yet.

Read Variety’s Awards Circuit predictions to keep up with the latest Oscar race updates.

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