Finally. After several years of senseless snuffing, snubbing, and robbing of several deserving nominees, the Academy is finally starting to listen to its audiences.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their nominees for the 91st Academy Awards Tuesday morning with the help of comedians Kumail Nanjiani and Tracee Ellis Ross. In previous years, I’ve had an undying cynicism towards the Academy and their pretentious grandstanding, with their nominations being so under-the-radar that it wasn’t even worth having a radar. This year, however, I find myself pleasantly surprised with the Academy not just for nominating more mainstream movies, but for also reaching outside of the box with genres that they usually don’t recognize during awards season.
Don’t get me wrong; the Academy is still very much focused on the Indie side of cinema. Its two Best Picture frontrunners, for instance, are also the ceremony’s least recognizable – The Favourite and Roma, both of which have 10 nominations apiece. The Favorite is an English drama about two cousins aiming to be the court favorite to Queen Anne (Olivia Coleman), while Roma is a Spanish drama about a housekeeper’s relationship to the children of a middle-class family. Not only are both of these movies the least underscored out of the Best Picture nominees – they are also the least seen. The Favourite has grossed a little over $43 million at the box office, while Roma has grossed slightly over $3 million (although to be fair to Roma, it is difficult to know its exact totals given Netflix hasn’t publicly released its viewership figures). Either way, The Favourite and Roma are the underdogs in their fight towards Best Picture. If they beat all the odds and somehow end up winning the night’s most coveted award, viewers’ first question is very likely to be “What movie?”
But unlike previous years where the Academy just waterboards the audience with obscure movies nobody has ever heard of, the Academy has actually made significant strides in nominating more mainstream pictures this time around. For instance, the runner-up for Best Picture is Bradley Cooper’s remake for A Star Is Born, which is essentially a live-action Lady Gaga concert that is well worth the price of admission. A Star Is Born has eight nominations and deserves every single one of them, though how many Oscars it will win on awards night remains to be seen.
Also nominated for eight Oscars is the political nail-biter Vice, which is basically an ego trip for either Christian Bale or Dick Cheney depending on whether you ask a Republican or a Democrat. I’m just sitting here wondering when Bale will be cast as Donald Trump for the inevitable biopic that will eventually be done about him.
The biggest surprise to come out of this year’s Best Picture nominees is Black Panther, which is nominated for seven Oscars in this year’s ceremony. Not only is it the first Marvel movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture, but it is also the first superhero movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture, period. It’s great to see Black Panther get the much-needed recognition that it so desperately deserves, though you have to wonder where the heck the Academy was when they were sleeping on the likes of Spider-Man 2, The Dark Knight or Captain America: Civil War? To say it was long overdue to put superhero movies in the running with other high-profile Oscar frontrunners is a substantial understatement.
Also nominated is the in-cheek satirical comedy-crime-drama BlacKkKlansman, which tells the true story of a black police detective successfully infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970’s. You might be frustrated to hear that despite writer-director Spike Lee’s long and successful career, this is only his first nominations for both Best Picture and Director. He was famously snubbed several years ago when his masterpiece Do the Right Thing was robbed of a nomination in virtually every category in the 1989 ceremony. The Academy did the right thing this year by giving BlacKkKlansman six nominations, including three for Lee himself for directing, writing, and producing.
Finally, the last two Best Picture nominees are both biopics about real-life musicians – Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen singer Freddie Mercury and Green Book for jazz pianist Don Shirley. Both are widely controversial movies that got several details wrong from both of their respective true stories. So obviously that makes them both deserving of their five nominations, including in the Best Acting categories.
This year’s ceremony didn’t get away completely unscathed from its usual snubs. A Quiet Place, for instance, got only one nomination for Best Sound Editing, even though you could have nominated it in just about every technical category and it would have been no less deserving. The sci-fi action-thriller Upgrade, the spy sequel Mission Impossible: Fallout, and the surprisingly endearing Crazy Rich Asians all got away with a collective zero nominations. And perhaps the most maddening, the compassionate Mister Rogers’ documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? wasn’t nominated for Best Documentary, with its snub matched only by the absence of Roger Ebert’s documentary Life Itself in 2015.
But overall, I feel better about this year’s nominations than I do in previous years. It shows that the Academy is trying to diversify its tastes when it comes to the nominations process, and they’re at least trying to reach out to other genres they usually don’t consider for their bigger awards. At the very least, let’s be grateful that this year isn’t a repeat of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.
Now if only they could find someone to host the Oscars. I heard Jimmy Kimmel was free this year.
– David Dunn