20th Century Fox/DreamWorks
The Oscar nominations were unveiled Tuesday morning and things went pretty much as expected, with Lionsgate’s lovely musical La La Land leading the field with a record-tying 14 nominations. There were still some snubs and surprises, so here are the top 10 takeaways from the Academy’s big announcement.
1. Diversity and the Dawn of a New Day – After two straight years of #OscarsSoWhite stemming from 20 white acting nominees, this year delivered seven acting nominees of color, including six black performers — Denzel Washington, Ruth Negga, Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Naomie Harris. Dev Patel, a British actor of Indian descent, was also nominated.
While all of these films were in production prior to last year’s Oscar nominations and not made in response to the return of #OscarsSoWhite, their recognition nonetheless marks a sign of progress on Hollywood’s part — a progressive symbol of its commitment to inclusion. Many people were angry about the two-year shut-out, which prompted the Academy to launch a five-year campaign to diversify its membership as well as its board of governors.
That work is starting to pay off, as Moonlight, Fences, Hidden Figures and Loving were among the nominated films exploring black life in America. The Best Documentary category boasts three films that did the same — O.J.: Made in America, 13th and I Am Not Your Negro — all of which were directed by filmmakers of color (Ezra Edelman, Ava DuVernay, and Raoul Peck, with Roger Ross Williams also nominated for Life, Animated). One of them will almost certainly win an Oscar next month, and yet no black filmmaker has won the main directing prize yet. Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins will try to buck that trend this year, though he’s up against La La Land‘s Damien Chazelle, who might just have a date with destiny.
Still, strides are being made. Bradford Young became the second black nominee for Best Cinematography for his work on Arrival, while Moonlight‘s Joi McMillon became the first black female nominee for Best Editing and the second black nominee in that category period. Elsewhere, Lin-Manuel Miranda has Puerto Rican roots and he was nominated for Best Song for Moana, while Fences writer August Wilson finds himself nominated in the adapted screenplay category alongside Jenkins and Moonlight playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. It’s notable that Jenkins became just the fourth black man to be nominated for Best Director, and the seventh black writer to be nominated (making McCraney the eighth).
Meanwhile, Viola Davis became the most nominated black actress with three nods. The supporting actress category has never had three black women nominated in the same year, so Davis is also making history in that regard along with Naomie Harris and Octavia Spencer.
Diversity is about much more than skin color, of course. Women remain underrepresented in the directing and writing categories, where they would’ve been shut out if not for Hidden Figures co-writer Allison Schroeder, who earned an adapted screenplay nomination along with director Ted Melfi. Best Cinematography is another problematic category that has yet to see a female nominee.
Women actually fared quite well in the Best Picture category, as Moonlight (Adele Romanski and Dede Gardner), Hell or High Water (Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn), Hidden Figures (Donna Gigliotti and Jenno Topping), Lion (Angie Fielder) and Manchester by the Sea (Kimberly Steward) were all produced by women. Steward actually became the second black woman to be nominated for Best Picture, following in the footsteps of Selma producer Oprah Winfrey. And speaking of Selma, its director DuVernay is the first black woman nominated in the Best Documentary category thanks to 13th.
2. Best Picture Is Still for Best Pictures – There was a lot of buzz surrounding a potential surprise from Deadpool or O.J.: Made in America, but the truth is that this remains a very traditional category. As hard as I tried to convince people to vote for Ezra Edelman’s brilliant 7.5-hour OJ Simpson documentary for Best Picture, where it was eligible, it was simply not meant to be. The same goes for Deadpool, which had nominations from the three major guilds but couldn’t rally in time to snag the big prize.
Either film would’ve set an exciting but problematic precedent. I know the Academy went to its current 10-flex system for Best Picture nominees after The Dark Knight was snubbed in the hopes that the membership would nominate more commercial movies that could help goose the show’s ratings (in theory, more people would watch the Oscars if Batman is represented) but it would’ve been a shame to see Deadpool take away a slot from far more deserving films.
Deadpool was a bold game-changer and I’m glad it was successful, if only because it paves the way for more R-rated comic book movies like The Crow, but you cannot tell me with a straight face that Deadpool deserved a Best Picture nomination over something like Silence or Patriots Day.
Meanwhile, O.J.: Made in America would’ve been the first documentary nominated for Best Picture, and it picked up some steam as nominations closed, with the Hollywood Reporter’s awards expert Scott Feinberg predicting a possible upset nomination. Alas, it wasn’t in the cards. We’re both guilty of wishful thinking there. And here’s one more wish! It’d be super interesting to find out which Best Picture nominees were the top and bottom vote-getters in the category, just to see which film is the frontrunner and which one just squeaked into the race.
3. Why Does the Academy Hate Tom Hanks? – The Academy followed SAG’s lead and nominated the same five performances, all of which are deserving. But this category just wasn’t as deep this year as it typically is, with solid but not-quite-undeniable performances from veterans Michael Keaton (The Founder), Robert De Niro (The Comedian) and Matthew McConaughey (Gold) more or less blown off this awards season.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Despite having said that, and with all apologies to Amy Adams, the biggest snub of the day — AGAIN! — had to be Tom Hanks, who was (as always) excellent as the title character in Sully. Did you know that Hanks has not been nominated for an Oscar since 2001, when he was in the race thanks to Cast Away? That is INSANE! He received nothing for Road to Perdition, Catch Me If You Can, Charlie Wilson’s War, Captain Phillips, Saving Mr. Banks or Bridge of Spies. Hanks is sorely under-appreciated by the Academy and this year’s snub for Sully only reinforces the organization’s ongoing disrespect for one of America’s greatest actors (even though he has two Oscars). Just because he makes it look easy, doesn’t mean it isn’t hard.
4. Why Does the Academy Love Meryl Streep? – Sure, you can point to Michael Shannon being nominated over his Nocturnal Animals co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson and argue that the Golden Globes don’t matter, but this year’s Best Actress nominees prove they do… kind of.
The category was absolutely stacked this year and Hollywood’s grand dame Meryl Streep always felt like a borderline nominee with her work in Florence Foster Jenkins. But then she delivered that amazing speech at the Globes that spoke truth to power, and I guarantee that if anyone in that room had a doubt, she helped them make up their minds en route to a record 20th acting nomination.
Want further proof? Isabelle Huppert’s divisive foreign film Elle generated some polarizing reactions this year from those who even bothered to watch it, and yet the Golden Globe winner snagged a nomination, beating out five-time nominee Amy Adams (whose Arrival was a huge hit but might’ve split the vote with her bookish turn in Nocturnal Animals) and four-time nominee Annette Bening (20th Century Women), the latter of whom is Hollywood royalty.
Streep and Huppert used the Golden Globes to their advantage and capitalized on the bump that awards show gave them. You can’t argue with their inclusion, but Adams and Bening have to be shaking their heads this morning, wondering what happened — not that this isn’t a two-woman race between Emma Stone (La La Land) and Natalie Portman (Jackie).
5. La La Land Is Too Big to Fail – Damien Chazelle’s magical musical la-la-landed 14 Oscar nominations, tying the mark held shared by Titanic and All About Eve, both of which went on to win Best Picture. The film even earned two song nominations, leading to shut-outs for Hidden Figures, Sing Street and Popstar. Wunderkind filmmaker Chazelle is also poised to become the youngest best director winner ever, which is particularly impressive. Now the question is whether the film can tie the record for most Oscar wins ever and take home 11 trophies. Keep in mind, they’re already guaranteed to lose one in the Best Song category, but that’s a good problem to have.
6. Amazon Is Too Legit to Quit – Thanks to Manchester by the Sea, Amazon Studios has become the first streaming service to distribute or co-distribute a Best Picture nominee. Admit it, this is pretty cool, and not just because everyone thought Netflix would beat them to the punch last year with Beasts of No Nation.
I’ll admit, when Amazon bought Manchester at Sundance last year, even I had my doubts that it’d be able to take the film all the way to the Dolby. Sure enough, Manchester was the most successful Sundance movie last year by a wide margin, and it snagged six Oscar nominations despite not being much of a below-the-line player. Amazon has to be thrilled with this showing, and I expect the company will continue to build on this success — possibly as soon as next year with The Big Sick, which the distributor just acquired at Sundance for $12 million.
7. Mel Gibson Is All But Forgiven in Hollywood, Where Talent Matters Most – I never thought Mel Gibson would pull it off, but he fended off some stiff competition for his second Best Director nomination. Hacksaw Ridge has outperformed expectations, grossing nearly $160 million at the worldwide box office, and today’s news will only drive it closer to $200 million. Mel has handled its success well all season. And as someone who is Jewish, I applaud Mel for cleaning his life up. I never gave up on him or held his drunken rants against him. He’s a great filmmaker (Apocalypto is his true masterpiece) and I’m glad this one went well for him, because I want to see him working, whether it’s in front of or behind the camera.
8. The Snubbed Among the Snubs – While millions weep for Amy Adams, Annette Bening, Adam Driver, Kevin Costner, Pharrell Williams and Denzel the Director, I mourn for Peter Berg (Patriots Day), Felicity Jones (A Monster Calls), Molly Shannon (Other People) Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals), the songs of Sing Street and that wacky documentary Weiner. Yeah, it sucks that Martin Scorsese’s Silence was ignored and Taraji P. Henson was snubbed for Hidden Figures, but there are always bodies left behind on the Oscar battlefield. And in case you forgot, The Birth of a Nation will go down as one of the greatest “What Ifs?” in awards history.
9. The Presentation That Broke from Tradition – Kudos to the Academy and telecast producers Michael De Luca and Jennifer Todd on a smooth, innovative announcement. Rather than have several half-asleep actors rattle off a million names on TV before the sun even rises, they streamed a decent-enough package featuring a chorus of diverse voices including Terrence Howard, Jennifer Hudson, Ken Watanabe, Guillermo del Toro, Glenn Close, openly gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and Jason Reitman as the Straight White Male of the group. It wasn’t amazing (don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything) but it was different and everyone who participated deserves points for daring to shake up the typical formula and think outside the box. I thought the nominations announcement signals a solid show from De Luca and Todd, but much depends on the host, who will be ABC’s own Jimmy Kimmel this year.
10. The Experts Aren’t the Voters, for Better or Worse – If you’re reading this, you’ve probably spent the last six months reading every Oscar-related article out there, so it’s time to come clean about my own predictions. Here we go…
I correctly predicted there would be nine Best Picture nominees, and of those nine, I hit eight, doubling down on my season-long dark horse O.J.: Made in America and underestimating the strength of Hacksaw Ridge. Desmond Doss would be ashamed of me for losing faith.
I nailed all five nominees in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories, but only predicted three of the five nominees for both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. That’s what happens when you overthink things and psych yourself out, folks!
Even though Aaron Taylor Johnson won the Golden Globe (and gave the best performance), it was his co-star Michael Shannon who earned an Oscar nomination for Nocturnal Animals. I thought Kevin Costner or Hugh Grant might slip in over Lucas Hedges, but the young star of Manchester by the Sea held off both the veterans.
Meanwhile, I thought Amy Adams and Taraji P. Henson would receive a boost from their Best Picture nominees, but instead, the Best Actress category features Isabelle Huppert, the Golden Globe-winning star of Elle, and Loving breakout Ruth Negga, who gave a very restrained performance that I’m surprised the Academy went for. Meanwhile, poor Annette Bening, who was terrific in 20th Century Women (as was Greta Gerwig), though oddly enough given the film’s title, only Mike Mills was nominated for his original screenplay.
As I wrote previously, I was genuinely surprised Gibson was nominated, as I thought David Mackenzie (Hell or High Water), or even Garth Davis (Lion) stood a better chance. Though I missed that one in Best Director, I managed to predict all five nominees for Adapted Screenplay, correctly guessing that Hacksaw Ridge and Nocturnal Animals would lose out to Hidden Figures.
If only I had been as accurate in Original Screenplay, where I guessed three of the five nominees. I thought Disney’s sly, subversive Zootopia would be nominated alongside Captain Fantastic, but instead the Academy went with 20th Century Women. Despite its inane originality, I never thought The Lobster had a chance because I couldn’t get through the damn movie, but clearly its themes of emotional suffering and painful loneliness spoke to the writers branch.
Jeff Sneider | Editor in Chief