|All right, let’s do this.|
The 2015/16 Oscars will forever be branded as #OscarsSoWhite, meaning that the run-up to the 2016/17 Oscars would be studied closely as a potential corrective. That issue, as many people have noted, like my man Michael Mann, has less to do with nominees than the guts, so to speak, of the industry, and if there were to be a corrective this go-around, it may not be a corrective at all, but merely a temporary response. But we don’t have time right now to wait and see; we have to tell you like it is (even if it might not be at all). So, how is it?
The Best Picture nominees check in at 9, including the predominantly white, if quite good, “Manchester by the Sea” and the also quite good “Arrival”, where humankind is saved by two white people (even if one of the white people is a woman). But there is also the majestic, all-black and fantastic, from acting & directing on down to production design & music supervision, “Moonlight”; there is the all-African American “Fences”; there is “Hidden Figures”, which recounts the Untold Story of NASA’s black women. “Lion”, meanwhile, reaches out globally, while even “Hell or High Water”, which allowed for many economically anxious white people, also made space for a Native American character to espouse that, hey, his people got screwed first.
Then again, these films, and “Hacksaw Ridge”, generally fit the standard Academy prestige pedigree to tee (though “Hell or High Water” does trend a little more genre-y and “Moonlight” is pretty indie-y) just as “La La Land” does, which racked up the most nominations of any movie and will likely become the so-called front-runner, which means it will be exhaustively defended by its champions and relentlessly attacked by its adversaries, which is basically where every Oscar race winds up. It’s always tempting to view Best Picture nominees as some societal commentary, but really it’s just the Academy taking stock of how society presently views them and doing their best to respond accordingly. You could say “Deadpool” got snubbed, but if this was post-“Dark Knight” Didn’t Get Nominated Oscars, I am reasonably certain that “Deadpool” would have been one of the nine. The Academy, in other words, is less reactionary than simply reactive. I sincerely hope this push for diversity continues in the future, but we will have to wait and see.
In other nominations:
Best Director: Denis Villeneuve’s nod for “Arrival”suggests a willingness to go international, even if it’s an American film, and while Kenneth Lonergan is doing more in “Manchester by the Sea” then pointing and shooting, he deserves an Oscar most for Best Original Screenplay. This category seems “La La Land’s” 32 year old whiz kid Damien Chazelle’s to lose with “Moonlight’s” Barry Jenkins snapping at his heels. Mel Gibson, meanwhile, director of “Hacksaw Ridge”, now has two more nominations and one more actual Oscar than Kelly Reichardt, not that I’m bitter, not that I’m bitter at all.
Best Actress: Based on nothing but my own whims, I had pegged this year’s Best Actress race as a foregone conclusion, an “It’s Her Time” Oscar for Annette Bening in “20th Century Women”, which is not at all fair to the actual performance Bening gives because it is not merely of the “It’s Her Time” ilk but a finely textured bit of lived-in business that truly deserved all on its own merit to finally make it Bening’s time. Alas, Ms. Bening was shut out. While people are already saying Ruth Negga’s wonderfully restrained turn in “Loving” edged out Bening (and Amy Adams for “Arrival”), I blame this oversight on Meryl Streep. After all, the Academy has grandfathered in Meryl Streep’s nomination and so, once again, for the 59th straight year, dating back to 1957, Ms. Streep is nominated for Best Actress. I’d name the movie but it hardly matters. The movie could be anything. It could be “Speed 3: Autopilot.” And the thing is, I’m sure Meryl, a class act, knows it too. So it is. It could now instead be Isabelle Huppert’s “time”, fresh off her Golden Globes win for “Elle” and now nominated for the Academy Award too. But I don’t think so. Nope, I think this will be Emma Stone for “La La Land”, a classic case of a Cutting In Line Oscar (as in, while Annette and Isabelle and Amy keep waiting in line, Emma cuts right in front of them to collect her statue first).
Best Actor: Casey Affleck earned his second Oscar nomination and this time enters as the clear-cut favorite for his admittedly agonizing, inward performance in “Manchester by the Sea.” This could have been a walkover, so good is Affleck the actor, except that Affleck the person might not be such a good guy as the cloud of sexual assault allegations he settled out of court suggest. There is no character clause, as far as I know, when it comes to Academy voting, but Oscar races are (too) long and the media will stir up more “noise”, to use Affleck’s word, about his past and maybe it will matter, maybe it will not, maybe Denzel Washington (“Fences”) or Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”) or Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) will benefit which seems like a weird word to use in this context. And that is why this category makes me yearn to follow Viggo Mortensen of “Captain Fantastic” (who earned the Honorary Bryan Cranston “Trumbo” Wait, Who Actually Saw That? nomination) into the wilderness and away from all this mess.
Best Supporting Actress / Best Supporting Actor: One of the fun (funny) things about Academy Awards nominations is how easily we will skew our belief systems, so to speak, in the name of our favorites. Viola Davis is the front-runner for the former for “Fences” while Mahershala Ali, despite his loss at the Golden Globes, is the front-runner for the latter for “Moonlight.” These would not be tokenish We-See-You wins post-#OscarsSoWhite either. Both those wins would be deserved and I would be happy for them.
Still, while I quibble for Meryl Streep’s Grandfathered Nomination, I adore Nicole Kidman’s semi-Grandfathered Nomination, because I’m biased in her favor and I don’t hide my biases, and I was overjoyed she got the nod for “Lion” because I subscribe to the notion in my advancing age that the Academy Awards are just One Big Show and the show would be less fun without Nicole Kidman. And if every Oscar Nomination morning brings at least one Holy S*** moment, this year, for me, it was Michael Shannon, who did the heavy lifting in “Nocturnal Animals” in one of the best performances of the year, getting a nod. Imagining a Michael Shannon acceptance speech will be enough to get me through the next month of Oscar race smack talk in which awards autocrats tell everyone else to stop being so imperious. That, and dreaming of Michael Shannon as his character in “Nocturnal Animals” hosting the Academy Awards with Jimmy Kimmel.
JIMMY KIMMEL: “Couldn’t you laugh at, like, one of my jokes?”
MICHAEL SHANNON: “Wish I could.”
See you February 26th.