Well, folks, here we go. The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, in a weird streaming video that played like a combination of industrial training movie, informercial, and testimonial to the wonderfulness of host Jimmy Kimmel (seriously, what the fuck was that?). This was the Academy’s attempt at doing a Cool New Thing, instead of the traditional bleary-eyed press conference with whichever actors they could get to show up at five in the morning, and it was pretty terrible. The nominations themselves? Often not much better!
As per usual, we had a mix of predictable frontrunners (La La Land, with 14 nominations, chief among them), surprisingly strong showings, and seemingly sure things that weren’t (the word “snub” does not apply, THOUGH THE ANNETTE BENING THING IS TESTING MY RESOLVE ON THIS). So let’s take a look at the big takeaways, surprise-wise, from this morning’s list.
I’ll admit to not paying a lot of attention to The Awards Conversation (for reasons we’ve discussed) until this morning, but as recently as the beginning of the year, Lion looked like an also-ran, filling out categories like the Golden Globes’ Best Picture-Drama, but not really a player. Then it was nominated for the Producers’ Guild of America’s Best Picture equivalent (and, for the record, that guild’s 10 nominees included the nine eventual Oscar nods), and for the Directors Guild of America awards as well. So, I should finally see it!
Hidden Figures was a similar last-minute player – in fact, it originally wasn’t going to qualify at all, thanks to its initial January 13 release date. Then, apparently someone at Fox realized, hey, this is a pretty good historical docudrama and those tend to get Oscar nominations and so maybe we should release it like TWO WEEKS EARLIER, and they did, and here we are: nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and, Best Adapted Screenplay (more on that later).
As writer and pal Jessica Luther asks, “What would Mel Gibson have to do to actually ruin his career?”
The Best Actor nomination for Andrew Garfield’s turn in Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge was a big indicator of how much weaker the competition was for Best Actor than Best Actress this year. Mortensen’s nod for Captain Fantastic was another – Mortensen is a terrific actor, and this was a fine performance, but the idea of singling it out really just goes to show how much Loving flew right over these voters’ heads. Speaking of which…
The Best Actress nod for Ruth Negga is fabulous, obviously, but that was the sure thing. Elsewhere, Jeff Nichols’ modest and moving account of the Loving v Virginia case was shut out of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay – the latter in favor of, to take the most obvious example, Hidden Figures. But that was a movie that proclaimed its good intentions loudly and proudly, while Loving worked in a far subtler key, saying as much in silences and looks as it did in words. Maybe Joel Edgerton should’ve announced that they both peed the same color.
Annette Bening (and 20th Century Women)
But most of us Loving partisans had given up the ghost weeks (if not months) ago. The real shock this morning was the absence of Ms. Bening among the Best Actress nominees, since her turn as the curious and frustrated matriarch of 20th Century Women’s loose family had been considered a sure thing since the movie first unspooled at the New York Film Festival in October. I suppose this speaks to what a crowded field it was this year – until you realize that no, they up and nominated Meryl again, for Florence Foster Jenkins. But you know what they say about Oscar nominations: your twentieth is the one that really matters. (20th Century itself only managed a nod for Best Original Screenplay, which was also a bummer; the film was undoubtedly one of the year’s best, and you know how I feel about Greta Gerwig in it.)
Another casualty of that surplus of great leading roles for women and the need to nominate Meryl Streep for pretty much every movie she makes: Ms. Adams, who turned in two great performances this year. (Maybe they cancelled each other out?) She’s terrific in Nocturnal Animals, but everyone seemed to have settled on her nuanced, powerful turn in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, which did quite well otherwise – eight nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. But no love for Ms. Adams; as Women in Hollywood’s Melissa Silverstein noted on Twitter, “Arrival gets eight Oscar noms, except the woman who held it together gets ignored.”
Aaron Taylor-Johnson (and Nocturnal Animals)
Tom Ford’s beautiful but empty sophomore film only got one Oscar nomination, and it’s the only one it should’ve got: Michael Shannon, for Best Supporting Actor. (Guess they didn’t send out enough perfume.) But Taylor-Johnson was a shock win at the Golden Globes, which briefly made it seem like his hillbilly-shitting-on-the-front-porch performance might actually get some sort of additional recognition. Thank God we put that silly business to rest.
Martin Scorsese’s delicate, powerful passion project landed exactly one (richly deserved) Oscar nomination, for Rodrigo Prieto’s stunning cinematography. Outside of that, bupkis – it was shunned in Best Picture for the likes of Lion, Hacksaw Ridge, and Hidden Figures, in Best Director for Gibson, in screenplay for Lion and Hidden Figures, and in all the acting categories. That’s nothing new; great movies get passed over in favor of middling ones all the time, that’s Oscar, Jake.
But Paramount’s handling of this film’s awards campaign – which is, unfortunate as it may be, ultimately what matters most – was downright incompetent. When a film is this complicated and is coming out this late in the year (Christmas Day, to be exact), it has to be put in front of critics and voters early and often. Instead, Paramount sat on it until the beginning of December, and neglected to show it to several guilds (as one example, myself and several members of the critics’ group I belong to, the Online Film Critics Society, had our RSVPs cancelled on the day we were supposed to see it for review and voting purposes). This isn’t rocket science; if you want your film to win awards, you should let people with a megaphone see it, post haste. Couple that with its underwhelming commercial reception – which should never be the case with an overtly religious movie, yet the studio made no effort to reach out to religious organizations, sell ticket blocks to churches, or any of the moves evangelical movies make to go into the black – and its shunning this morning was hardly a surprise.
I know John Carney’s ‘80s rock musical wasn’t everybody’s brand of vodka, but a nomination for Best Original Song (specifically, for “Drive It Like You Stole It”) was a no-brainer. Instead, the nomination goes to that Justin Timberlake song from Trolls, a movie I’ve had to watch with my daughter more times than any human should ever have to watch Trolls, and which I was shocked to discover recently is a song that grown-ups actually listen to and like.
Cameraperson, Weiner, Tower, Gleason
The only category with a richer field of worthy possibilities than Best Actress is Best Documentary, which is why it’s such a bummer that these great docs (all of which were in my top ten for the year) didn’t make the cut. That said, at least they nominated I Am Not Your Negro, the year’s best film. So there’s that.
The surprise PGA and DGA nomination for Tim Miller’s smirking superhero smash briefly had people thinking it might be a wild card Best Picture nominee, but get the fuck outta here, those old people weren’t gonna do that.
Anyway, they’ll hand out the 89th Academy Awards on Sunday, February 26th, so we’ve got five more weeks to hash these things out. CAN’T WAIT!