This year’s Oscar nominations have been announced, and for once the media pundits and social media consensus are much happier with the overall outcome, with few gripes and much to celebrate. Which doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty sighs about deserving favorites not making the cut – the Best Actress category especially was a bottleneck with many casualties (more on that later) – but more tellingly there are few outcries about supposedly undeserving candidates being included.
I myself am pretty happy about the nominations. Even if I might have wished for more love for certain overlooked or barely acknowledged films (“Loving”, “The Lobster”, “Love and Friendship”, “Silence”…), I can safely say that I really really liked 8 of the 9 Best Picture nominees, even loved quite a few, and rate at least 3 among my top films of the year and even decade. The one of the nine not included, well, I haven’t seen it yet…
The Oscars will be handed out February 26. Here’s the full nomination list, with my little asides on trivia and taste (update 2/27: all winners have been underlined – read my response to the Best Picture weirdness here):
Best motion picture of the year
Picture – Director – Original Screenplay – Editing – Cinematography – Production Design – Sound Editing – Sound Mixing
While “La La Land” got a record 14 nominations, “Arrival” and “Moonlight” both are in second place with 8 each. A very good showing for the popular and critically celebrated cerebral science fiction thriller “Arrival”, with two notable omissions where nominations were generally expected: visual effects and Amy Adams’ lead performance, which anchors the films’ complex intellectual and emotional themes (plus there was one omission where there was an egregious disqualification, more on that later). In the case of Amy Adams, it seems to be less a snub than an unfortunate casualty of the aforementioned Best Actress candidate bottleneck; and there may be a silver lining for Amy in that the already 5 time nominated but non-winning actress with this omission (that most everyone feels bad about) now might have the wind in her back to actually claim the award the next time around, rather than become the next Deborah Kerr / Glenn Close / Thelma Ritter (6 noms, no wins) of Oscar history (not to mention Richard Burton – 7 noms, no win – or Peter O’Toole – 8 noms, no win). And with Amy Adam’s amazing track record (5 noms in ten years), there will surely be a next time around.
By the way, with his work on “Arrival”, Bradford Young becomes the first African-American cinematographer nominated for an Academy Award (1998’s “Elizabeth” gave us the first nominated black British cinematographer). Just one example out of many deserving ones why this year so ain’t the year of #OscarSoWhite.
Meanwhile I can’t say enough good things about “Arrival”, the movie, except to reiterate how its themes of communication, understanding, and science in the face of dangerously irrational fear and prejudice have become only more important and potent with every passing awful day.
Picture – Actor – Supporting Actress – Adapted Screenplay
I had the thrill and the privilege of seeing Denzel Washington and Viola Davis perform their Tony winning and now Oscar nominated roles in “Fences” live on stage. It was brilliant when revived on Broadway and it’s brilliant now brought to cinema, one of the great stage-to screen adaptations of one the American Theater’s masterpieces. August Wilson (posthumously nominated for adapted screenplay) created a 10 play cycle about indelible individuals, about the African American experience, about America, each play set in a different decade of the 20th century – an achievement that puts him on the US Playwriting Mount Rushmore right next to Miller, O’Neill, Williams and Albee. “Fences”, which takes place in the 1950’s, was the first of the cycle to be produced on Broadway, but with this year’s revival of “Jitney”, all ten will have been staged on the Great White Way. And soon all ten will have been filmed. After directing “Fences”, Denzel Washington has made a deal with HBO to produce movies of the other nine.
Bill Mechanic and David Permut, Producers – 6 noms in total (2 wins):
Picture – Director – Actor – Editing – Sound Editing – Sound Mixing
This is the one film of the nine Best Picture nominees I haven’t yet seen. And the main reason is that I fear it will traumatize me, because war movies and even war plays, when based on true events and unflinching about the true horrors of war, do invariably traumatize me. So I hesitate to see them. It’s not necessarily the depiction of violence, although that can be a problem too aesthetically, it’s the awareness of the reality of these horrors having been actually suffered by real people at that time. Sleeplessness and nightmares will ensue.
I generally pride myself on seeing every film nominated for Best Picture before the ceremony, so perhaps I will still watch “Hacksaw Ridge”. But I will concede that the few exceptions to my see-all-nominees rule have been war movies. The fact that “Hacksaw Ridge” lionizes a pacifist conscientious objector do compel me and my Quaker husband to see it. The reports of the unflinching, gore filled depiction of the Battle of Okinawa give me pause. We’ll see. I have until February 26.
Carla Hacken and Julie Yorn, Producers – 4 noms in total:
Picture – Supporting Actor – Original Screenplay – Editing
You could hardly wish for a better action drama / modern day Western. Great writing, directing, acting, taut suspenseful storytelling with smart multifaceted social commentary.
I want to make a shout out to one particular moment in the movie, the diner scene with the bossy waitress, which felt so random and so authentic that I was certain this must be a real waitress who treated the filmmakers this way for real when they dropped by her restaurant during pre-production or during the shoot and they just loved her so much they incorporated her just as she is into the movie. That would have made a great story. However, everything I’ve read about the scene indicates that it was scripted and cast just like any other scene:
Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Pharrell Williams and Theodore Melfi, Producers – 3 noms in total:
Picture – Supporting Actress – Original Screenplay
There was cheering and applause during the credits when we saw “Hidden Figures”. And well deserved. This crowd pleaser about the crucial contributions and civil rights era tribulations of black female mathematicians and engineers at NASA has come at just the right time to make a big splash at the box office. With “Arrival” it is also the second best picture nominee to make women the unrivaled center of the story. As highly accomplished scientists as well as friends and mothers. Both films show them to be smart. And empathetic. And heroic. And show prejudice and irrationality to be the destructive agents of fear and backwardness that they are – just as they are taking over our nation and the planet for real outside of the cinema.
Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz and Marc Platt, Producers – 14 noms in total (6 wins):
Picture – Director – Actor – Actress – Original Screenplay – Editing – Cinematography – Score – Song – Song – Costumes – Production Design – Sound Mixing – Sound Editing
Only two films have achieved that milestone in past Academy Award history: “All About Eve” and “Titanic”, both of which went on to win Best Picture and many more Oscars, a happy fate that appears to be set for “La La Land” too. Most likely. OK, 90%, 95% certainty. Many movies with 13 nominations have ended up not winning Best Picture their year, especially recently, even though they were their year’s nominations leader. But still, “La La Land” is so popular, with the public and the Academy (did I mention 14 noms!?) that it is expected to be rewarded with many golden statuettes including the Big One February 26.
And it could tie or surpass “Ben Hur”, “Titanic” and “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” for the most Oscars – 11. The most it could win is 13 (as it is competing with itself in the Song category). Will the Academy shower all its love on “La La Land” or will it spread the wealth, as it has been more wont to do in recent years, especially since so many other nominated films this year are very much beloved too? I believe a haul between 6-10 is most likely, but you never know. “LOTR:ROTK” was nominated for “only” 11 Oscars, but wound up winning in every contending category.
I was in a swoon when I saw “La La Land”. And how would I not be? It lovingly plays homage to not only the musical genre in general, but also to specific musicals that I particularly cherish. It speaks to everything I love and aspire to in musicals. It really should be a no brainer that it would be my #1 movie on the Best Picture list.
And yet, as thrilled and infatuated as I am with it, it’s actually my #2…
Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder, Producers –
6 noms in total:
Picture – Supporting Actor – Supporting Actress – Adapted Screenplay – Cinematography – Score
“Lion” is no mere tearjerker, it is a bucket filler. A waterworkser. A Niagaragusher. And moreover, it is so well and so honestly made that it earns every one of those ocean filling tears. It certainly helps that it is based on the incredible true story of a five year old Indian boy who is accidentally separated from his family, eventually adopted by an Australian couple, and over 20 years later finds his way back to his lost home and family with the help of memory fragments and satellite pictures from Google Earth. I didn’t think I would be crying any more at any movie than I did at “Lion” this year. But there would be one film that similarly did me in…
Matt Damon, Kimberly Steward, Chris Moore, Lauren Beck and Kevin J. Walsh, Producers –
6 noms in total (2 wins):
Picture – Director – Actor – Supporting Actor – Supporting Actress – Original Screenplay
…not “Manchester by the Sea”, although I feared it might. I did cry. There is devastating sadness in this film. But even within the immense tragedy it eventually meticulously lays out over the course of its story, the movie tempers sentiment with humor and humanity and intelligence and restraint. A smart movie about grief, I feared going in it may due me in, as grief has been a big part of my life this year. In stead watching it I felt comforted by Kenneth Lonergan’s wise and subtle approach. I felt respected as an audience member by the movie neither fully sinking into irreparable despair nor forcing an unearnable optimism.
“Manchester by the Sea” was long considered by the pundits to be one of the top three movies in the “Oscar race” this season, with “La La Land” and “Moonlight”, and it surely still is, having won a lead three acting nominations as well as directing and screenplay nods. But its lack of a (usually considered crucial) editing nom and its recent 0-4 shut out at the SAG awards indicate that it may at best be a distant 3rd on the Best Picture list, while “Arrival”, which shares “Moonlight”‘s 8 nom total (but could/should have reached 11) and big SAG winners “Fences” and “Hidden Figures” have risen in the odds.
Adele Romanski, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, Producers – 8 noms in total (3 wins):
Picture – Director – Supporting Actor – Supporting Actress – Adapted Screenplay – Editing – Score – Cinematography
So there really is probably only one film that could surprise and overtake “La La Land” for Best Picture. It’s very unlikely. Heck, it is unlikely that a small, low-budget film about a marginalized person within a marginalized portion of a marginalized section of society, a film with no stars, a quiet film that favors subtlety, restraint, silence, would make such a big impact. Historically such films are as marginalized as their subject matter. Maybe they get Independent Spirit Awards. At best a lone Oscar nomination for screenplay, or for one actor. (The one major exception is “Brokeback Mountain”, but that’s a sore spot, as we all know about the homophobic backlash that prevented its Best Picture win). But the passion and love for “Moonlight” is strong. 8 nominations. In basically every category “Moonlight” could conceivably be expected to contend, it has been cited. That is a sign of deep respect and passion for the film.
And I can understand why because I have experienced it too. It isn’t just that I feel every aspect of “Moonlight”, screenplay, cinematography, music, editing, performances, direction has been exquisitely crafted, it is also that as a whole the movie achieves something sublime that exceeds the sum of its parts, goes beyond the elements one can readily explain and critique as to what makes them artistic, effective, masterful. The quality of the filmcraft reaches beyond the literal, representative elements of cinema. In my experience, “Moonlight” is one of those rare films that is cinematic poetry, that works on your subconscious like a great piece of music or painting, that touches upon a higher realm of the ineffable.
“Moonlight” achieves alchemy. And in an art form dependent on so many moving parts from so many collaborators, that is a near miraculous achievement.
Therefore for me it is the movie of the year.
So, no movies past the letter M nominated for Best Picture? What is this? #OscarsSoFirstHalfoftheAlphabet?