Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of the 1946 noir novel Nightmare Alley sat on his ‘announced with intent’ plate for quite some time. And while it didn’t boast the supernatural aspects that previous del Toro films are known for, much of the novel’s territory seemed to fall right into del Toro’s wheelhouse, especially the traveling carnival awash in both light and dark forces. Del Toro’s film hews closer to William Lindsay Gresham’s original novel than the 1947 Tyrone Power-led version; the earlier film significantly softened the book’s ending, which is startlingly dark even for noir.
The quality of Nightmare Alley is reflected in its many awards, and this morning’s announcement adds an Oscar nod to the list. And while many assumed it would take a place on the longer Best Picture list, some surprised fans still question why it didn’t garner further nominations in more categories.
One of the primary elements for which the film has been lauded is its incredible visuals, so it came as no great surprise that veteran cinematographer Dan Lausten earned a nod from the Academy. Lausten’s previous work with del Toro include Mimic, Crimson Peak, and The Shape of Water, for which he also received an Oscar nomination.
The nomination for Best Production Design goes to del Toro regulars Shane Vieau (who previously won for The Shape of Water), and Tamara Deverell, who has been working with him since Mimic. Their work particularly shines in Nightmare Alley’s first act, as the viewer follows Bradley Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle into the immersive world of the traveling carnival/sideshow.
A Best Costume Design nomination also goes to Luis Sequeira, who won for The Shape of Water; his skill not only informs the outlandishness of his circus outfit designs, but also the sharp 40’s style seen on Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, and especially Cate Blanchett’s femme fatale character, Lilith.
Many will argue that the performances by the Nightmare Alley cast were more than impressive enough to earn nominations, and that the adapted script did wonders with the original material, though it seems the Academy voters didn’t see it the same way. Expect to see more of this discussion hitting social media from the film’s devoted fans.