Every year, movie fans eagerly await Oscar nominations morning to see which one of their favorite films got included or snubbed in the nomination process. And, every year, they are not disappointed. This year is no different as there are shocking omissions and inclusions in the list of nominated films, actors and other categories.
This is my initial thoughts on the nominations, they trends they show, the snubs they made and the surprises they held.
1. Goodbye to the old guard (and the old way of thinking):
Clint Eastwood, an Oscar favorite, directed Tom Hanks, another Oscar favorite in a true life tale of heroism, Sully. The film gets only one nomination for Best Achievement in Sound Editing. Martin Scorsese, one of the best directors of his generation, directs a sweeping historical epic in Silence–the kind Oscar voters used to love. It gets only one nod, not for Scorsese, but for Best Cinematography. Amy Adams, a five-time Oscar nominee, does some of her most nuanced work in Arrival. She does not get a Best Actress nomination.
Every so often there is a “changing of the guard” at the Oscars, when the perennial nominees step aside to let the next generation step in and take over. Could this be what is happening here? Or just an off movie for Eastwood, Hanks and Scorsese?
The big controversy last year was the lack of ethnic diversity in the nominees. The Academy took these criticisms to heart and revamped their voting list, making the voting rolls younger by purging older and inactive Academy members from the list (much to the chagrin of the purged).
The effects of the changes are seen this year. There is at least one person of color in each of the acting categories and African-American Barry Jenkins received two nominations, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay
But is this really a result of the Academy’s purge? Or was it an exceptional year for diversity in quality films? Probably both.
3. The infuriating treatment of the Best Picture category:
The could become a perennial entry in this column. As a matter of fact, I was thinking of just cutting and pasting the paragraphs from last year’s entry into this space and just changing the names of the films.
By now you know the deal. The Academy can nominate anywhere from five to ten nominees for Best Picture. They have a convoluted and complex mathematical way to pick the nominees that you’d need the help of a character from Hidden Figures to understand. Every year, they leave one or two spots out of the ten open, leaving deserving films out in cold. The films this year that were locked out of the one empty spot include critical favorites such as Loving, The Lobster and, yes, even Deadpool.
But the problem night not be with the process alone. Let’s talk about the critics. Rotten Tomatoes has a list of The Top 100 Movies of 2016 based on the strength of critic’s reviews. Only 5 of the 9 Best Picture nominees–Arrival, La La Land, Hell or High Water, Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea–appeared on the list’s top 9. The rest came in as follows: Fences was #31, Hacksaw Ridge was at #90, Lion was at #93 and Hidden Figures wasn’t on the list at all because I guess they are treating it as a 2017 film or it didn’t have 40 critic’s reviews before 2016 ended.
But what took the place of these films on Rotten Tomatoes list? Two cartoons–Zootopia, which received a nomination in the Best Animated Feature category, and Finding Dory, which did not (more on this later), a smaller film, Love & Friendship and a blockbuster in The Jungle Book.
This illustrates the mercurial nature of the Academy. While some critics name documentaries to their top ten lists, the Academy would never allow this to happen, they have the Best Documentary category and that’s where docs will stay. Some critics honor small, independent films with their lists and other blockbusters, The Academy rarely does. They want their nominees be popular, but not too popular. Love & Friendship is a bit too obscure, but Rogue One: A Star Wars Story made too much darn money to get a nomination (and is a genre film, another thing the Academy doesn’t like). And while many critics and audiences might have thought Zootopia was way better than Hacksaw Ridge, it would take a lot for it to leave the Best Animated Feature category to get a best picture nomination.
So when the Academy throws up its hands about not having ten great films for their Best Picture category, don’t feel too bad. Because the films they do nominate aren’t all of the best pictures anyway.
4. Oh, Best Documentary category, you’ve done it again:
Historically, the Oscar category that is the most completely inept joke is the Best Documentary Feature. Quick, throw out some names of great documentaries from the past. Salesman? Dont Look Back? Gimme Shelter? Grey Gardens? Shoah? The Thin Blue Line? Roger & Me? Hoop Dreams? Wordplay? Crumb? Paris is Burning? Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck? Grizzly Man? The Last Waltz? Waltz with Bashir? Blackfish? Waiting for “Superman”? The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters? Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief? The Up Series? Hitchcock/Truffaut? Best of Enemies? Fahrenheit 9/11?
That’s a pretty good list there. Classic documentaries that have stood the test of time and are just a vital today as they were when they were made. Now, here’s a follow-up. How many of the above films won Oscars? This is easy. None. Not a one. Why? BECAUSE THEY WEREN’T EVEN NOMINATED!!! Yes, they films that changes the shape of the world, moved people and flat-out entertained were deemed unworthy of being one of five films to be considered for an Oscar, let alone win one!
That’s the reason why I was so gob smacked to see O.J.: Made In America get an Oscar nomination. It is a high profile and very popular documentary–you know, they kind the documentary branch never nominates? But it was just a case of one step forward and three steps back, because three great docs were passed over by for a nomination, Gleason details the life of former NFL player Steve Gleason as he helps raise a son while his body deteriorates as a result of his fight with ALS. Tower is a documentary that marries archival footage with animation to retell the 1966 sniper attack at the University of Texas. It has the rare honor of holding a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And Weiner follows the embattled Anthony Weiner as he runs for Mayor of New York City, and it fortunate enough to be able to capture his final, most damaging sex scandal live as it happened.
Those three documentaries will stand the test of time even without an Oscar nomination. But for them not to get one is once again proof of how damaged this category is.
5. R.I.P. PIXAR’s Oscar Domination, 2001-2015:
There was once one certainty in life. Pixar would put out a movie, and it would get nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar. And more often than not, it went home with the hardware. It won 8 of its 10 nominations, including every Oscar it was nominated for from 2007 on. It was riding high.
But then things started to change. The Academy started to nominate move away from mostly nominating animated films from American studios and cast its nets wider to honor foreign fare as well. At the same time, Disney’s in house started to gain ground with their film, culminating in back to back Oscar wins in 2013 and 2014 for Frozen and Big Hero 6.
This was the one two-punch that doomed Pixar. Even though Finding Dory got excellent reviews and appeared on many critics’ Top Ten list, it was snubbed for an Oscar, while Disney’s two films–Zootopia and Moana got nominations instead.
Pixar will continue to put out quality films, and might get Oscar nods in the future, but it’s era of dominance might be over.
6. EGOT Watch–Lin-Manuel Miranda:
Only 12 people in all of history have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony-Richard Rogers, Helen Hayes, Rita Moreno, John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn, Marvin Hamlisch, Jonathan Tunick, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols, Whoopi Goldberg, Scott Rudin and Robert Lopez. Mr. Lopez is the last to complete the circuit, when he won an Oscar for writing songs for the Disney computer animated film, Frozen. This year, the EGOT club might gain a new member in a similar way.
Lin-Manuel Miranda has several Tonys for his work on Broadway with both In the Heights and Hamilton. He has won a Grammy for each of their cast albums. And his contributions to the 67th Tony Awards earned him a Primetime Emmy. All he need now is an Oscar. And he just so happens to be nominated for one this year–for a song he wrote for a Disney Computer animated film, Moana.
He doesn’t have an easy road to an Oscar. The song he lost the Golden Globe to, “City of Stars” from La La Land, is also nominated here. But there is something to root for if you are into these sorts of things.
7. The troublesome nominations of Mel Gibson and Casey Affleck:
Mel Gibson is a skilled actor who became and even more skilled director, winning an Oscar for directing Braveheart. He’s also a man in 2006 who made anti-Semitic remarks after being pulled over by a Jewish cop during a DUI and also was recorded angrily threatening an ex-girlfriend over the phone in 2010. His career took a down turn as he went through probation and treatment. Eventually, he was chosen to direct Hacksaw Ridge, a sign he worked himself back into Hollywood’s trust. He’s been nominated for Best Director for his work on that film.
Casey Affleck is one of the most talented, if somewhat underrated, actors working today. He already had an Oscar nomination to his credit, Best Supporting Actor for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. After that film, he joined his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix in the latter’s mockumentary I’m Still Here, with Affleck directing and appearing in the film. It was during that film, according to a lawsuit brought forward by two women who worked under Affleck on the production, that he sexually harassed and physically intimidated the women, doing everything from soliciting the women for sex to sneaking to bed with one of the women while they slept. He settled the suit for an undisclosed amount. Unlike Gibson, he didn’t serve an period of penance for his “crimes.” He continued on with his successful career, and is nominated for Best Actor for his work in Manchester By the Sea.
This is one of the most troublesome quandaries of our day. Should we separate the art from the artist? If so, how? Should all sins be forgiven? If not, what sins are unforgivable? Does Gibson’s time in the purgatory of being a B-list celebrity make him more worthy of redemption? Of does Affleck settling with the objects of harassment make him more worthy. Should either be rewarded with Hollywood’s highest honor, or should that be withheld as another form of punishment. There are no easy answers.
8. The snubs, and why they might have been snubbed:
I’ve already talked about some snubs, but here are some more omissions that I find surprising.
BEST ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain, Miss Sloane:
While most attention was paid to one redhead’s snub (Amy Adams), Chastain’s not being nominated is also worthy of noting. Miss Sloane was essentially a showcase for her, as she was a driving force in the film. She got a Golden Globe for her performance, but not everyone nominated for a Lead Actor statute at the Globes can get an Oscar nomination.
BEST ACTRESS: Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures:
Ms. Henson did not get much love this awards season, but she should have. The acting in Hidden Figures was superb all around, but Henson’s role was the most difficult one to master. She had to play a nerd, a mother, a victim of oppression, an unlikely object of desire, a woman of dignity even in undignified circumstances and a math prodigy. And much more. Just one of those characteristics would be a challenge and if any are played wrong, the film wouldn’t hold together at all. Henson knocked the role out of the park. She was perfect. She should have won the award, not just get a nomination.
What I think might have cost her the nods was that she played it low key. People might have underestimated her performance because she didn’t chew scenery every time she was on the screen. That’s the only reason why I can imagine she was snubbed.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Nocturnal Animals:
While just being nominated for a Golden Globe doesn’t guarantee you and Oscar nomination, Taylor-Johnson WON the Supporting Actor Globe for this role. And, unlike the lead performance Golden Globes, the Supporting actor awards is only five nominees. So a victory there should have cinched an Oscar nod.
Why no nomination? I blame Michael Shannon. As I recall, Shannon’s nomination for Revolutionary Road was a bit of a surprise too.
BEST SONG: “You’re Welcome” or “Shiny” from Moana:
The soundtrack from Moana is pretty much golden. It does what every song in a musical needs to do: 1. Advance the plot, 2. Reveal more about the characters, or 3: All of the above. And every song in Moana does that.
Granted, “How Far I’ll Go” is the best song in the film, and deserves the nomination, I just thought that one of the above would join it on the list. Especially, “You’re Welcome.” That is Maui’s introduction song. It establishes the character boldly and humorously, it is an infectious sing-along number, and even Dwayne Johnson sounds good singing it.
Why was it snubbed? Maybe because the Academy didn’t want the category to be dominated by just two films. Whatever the reason, the world missed out on The Rock singing a song on the Oscar’s stage. Too bad.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Deadpool.
Okay, thinking that Deadpool had a shot at Best Picture was a delusion bordering on a fever dream. However, Reese and Wernick’s script was daring and inventive and did a wonderful job translating the anarchic spirit of the comic book into a film that even non-comic fans could love. It would fit in with any of the films that got the nod. But, alas, it is from a comic book film, and O.J. Simpson has a better chance of getting a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award than a comic book film getting a writing award in this era.