Oscars Strike Back

You spoke, Academy Award voters listened. Well, mostly.

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy last year regarding the obvious lack of diversity in their nominations (all 20 acting nominees were Caucasian), the Academy wisened up with their pool of nominees this year. While there are still a healthy amount of snubs (there are every year), most of the nominees are at least well-deserved, and the nominees don’t seem to be lacking diversity-wise in many areas.

For best picture, we have the eerie science-fiction mystery Arrival, the Denzel Washington-directed Fences, the incredible and emotional war epic Hacksaw Ridge, the western-heist film Hell or High Water, the behind-the-scenes story of the moon landing Hidden Figures, the uplifting tap-dancing musical La La Land, the true story that spans technology and time in Lion, the personal family drama Manchester By The Sea, and the pivotal and passionate Moonlight. From the look of these nominees at first glance, it seems clear that the Academy is trying to make up for their relentless snubbing of Creed and Straight Outta Compton last year, as the inclusion of Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight shows they’re trying to atone for past mistakes that they’ve made.

Still, they’re lacking in some areas. Captain America: Civil War is no where to be found, as well as its profane cousin Deadpool. Both of Peter Berg’s films Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day were skipped over by the Academy, despite them both being biopics and for featuring outstanding talent from its cast and crew. Perhaps most surprising to me is that they decided to snub A Monster Calls, a fantasy drama that has been getting Oscar talk for a long time now. I guess it goes to show that buzz doesn’t equal results, and with how many Christmas releases are included in the lineup, it especially shows how close to the chest Academy voters play with the nominations process.

For best director we have Denis Villenueve for Arrival, Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Damien Chazelle for La La Land, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea, and Barry Jenkins for Moonlight. My immediate reaction is that Gibson and Jenkins are most deserving. After all, it’s hard to take the subject matter they’ve had to deal with and translate it into film so well. Myself personally hopes that Gibson will win it, because he’s had a hard few years and made a comeback as powerful and groundbreaking as Hacksaw Ridge. But he already won best director a few years ago with Braveheart, so it’s unlikely the Academy will strongly consider him again, especially with all of the outstanding talent that he’s up against.

For best actor we have Casey Affleck in Manchester By The Sea, Andrew Garfield in Hacksaw Ridge, Ryan Gosling in La La Land, Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic, and Denzel Washington in Fences. Not much to complain about here. All of the nominees are well-deserved in one way or another, and there’s no obvious snubs like Johnny Depp’s absence last year for Black Mass. I’m sure others will raise arguments about one actor or another, but for the most part, this category is well-rounded. No complaints here.

For best actress we have Isabelle Huppert in Elle, Ruth Negga in Loving, Natalie Portman in Jackie, Emma Stone in La La Land, and Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins. First thing’s first: Meryl Streep again? Really, Academy? This is literally her 20th nomination. I agree that she’s an outstanding talent, but you don’t need to nominate her every time she makes a movie. Amy Adams was subtle yet masterful in her role as a linguist in Arrival. But no, Meryl Streep needs another nomination, for a movie as clunky, awkward and uncomfortable as Florence Foster Jenkins.

Keep in mind I’m not criticizing Meryl Streep, I’m criticizing the Academy. There are outstanding artists every year yearning for recognition, yet the attention the Academy keeps giving her is taking away from those same performers. At this point, I’m expecting her to get a nomination if she portrays a wood table and chair. She could even win it too.

Back to the nominations. I like that Huppert is nominated for Elle, as French actors usually go unnoticed by the Academy unless it’s in the Foreign Language film categories. But I am also pleased to see Stone under the nominations as well. She’s always been a stand-out talent, from The Help all the way to Birdman. I don’t know whether she’ll win this year or not, but I’m excited to see what the race will be like. This is a category to look forward to.

For best supporting actor, we have Mahershala Ali for Moonlight, Jeff Bridges for Hell or High Water, Lucas Hedges for Manchester By The Sea, Dev Patel for Lion, and Michael Shannon for Nocturnal Animals. An oddity I found in this category was Dev being nominated for Lion. Isn’t he the main character? I haven’t seen the film myself, but I know its about a young boy who uses Google Earth to find his birth parents after years of separation, which is the role that Patel plays. Even if the film uses flashbacks, he’s still portraying the elder version of the main character. Why is he nominated in a supporting role?

For best supporting actress we have Viola Davis for Fences, Naomie Harris for Moonlight, Nicole Kidman for Lion, Octavia Spencer for Hidden Figures, and Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea. Again, nothing really lacking in this category, although I would have liked to have seen Felicity Jones nominated for A Monster Calls. I’m personally pining for Harris to win for her outstanding work on Moonlight, but this category can really go any way. Cross your fingers on this one.

The most obvious snubs come from films that are frequently ignored by the Academy, although they shouldn’t be. Suicide Squad got a nomination in makeup, although it should have also gotten nominated for best original song for Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens.” Deadpool also had outstanding makeup and costume work and is nominated for a Writer’s Guild award for best adapted screenplay. Of course, it isn’t nominated for that same award here.

The biggest snub came from Captain America: Civil War, a movie which really deserved to be nominated for anything. Best Picture. Best Director. Best Adapted Screenplay. Best Sound Editing and Mixing. Best Visual Effects. It got nominated for nothing. Yep, that’s right: it got The Dark Knight Rises treatment in 2012.

To me, this really speaks to how disconnected the Academy voters are to moviegoing audiences. Captain America: Civil War is simultaneously the highest-grossing and one of the highest-reviewed pictures of the year. With its complex story, mind-blowing action scenes, as well as its blurred sense of morality, this is a movie that is more resemblant of our politically-polarized society than it is as an action blockbuster. To look at its depth of layers hidden inside a superhero epic and ignore them is just a plain sham. The Academy Award voters should know better than this.

You can check out the full list of nominees here. In the meantime, I’m sharpening my pencil and checking off on my ballot. I’ll see you on Oscar night.

– David Dunn

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