February 19, 2017

Oscars 2016: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars,TV — DB @ 6:15 pm
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(Class of 2016 photo from Annual Nominee Luncheon. Click image to enlarge and actually see who these people are.)

Complete List Of Nominees

With everything going on in the world, it seems particularly frivolous to spend the kind of time I do writing about, reading about, and thinking about the Academy Awards. But I’m much better equipped to talk about this than I am about the more important things going on, and since there are countless people vastly more qualified to discuss and dissect and spotlight those things — some of those people in my very own family — I’m going to stick with what I’m good at and focus on something that makes me happy, since every day there are a dozen reasons to cry.

Actually, that may not be the most ideal way to draw the line, since looking at recent movies also gives us a dozen reasons to cry. Lion, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea — which delivers one of the most devastating scenes of this year, or last year, or 1983, or 1971…I could go on — these are just some of the movies that lately gave us reasons to cry. But these are cathartic tears, the kind made possible by art’s capacity to move us. Good tears, in other words.

Once again, I’m pretty late with this post – external forces are partly to blame this time — but Oscar voting only started last Monday and closes on Tuesday, so somehow I feel like that lets me off the hook a little bit. I’m not sure why voting didn’t start much sooner after the nominees were announced, but oh well. We’re here now. Phase Two of awards season began at the unfathomable hour of 5:18am on Tuesday, January 24, when the nominees were unveiled in a two-part video produced by the Academy. This was a departure from the tradition of having the nominees announced live by the Academy President and an actor or actress in a room full of journalists and publicists at the unfathomable hour of 5:38am. The video featured past Oscar winner and nominees — including Marcia Gay Harden, Ken Watanabe, Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and writer/director Jason Reitman — talking about their experiences, interspersed with a lady robot reading off the nominations in each category. It was a nice experiment, but maybe could be adjusted in the future, as it wasn’t entirely successful. The interviews included some trite, “most amazing moment of my life” kind of recollections, and the revelation of the nominees themselves were even more dry than they typically are in the live format. At least with an audience you get some gasps and cheers. Here, just that alarmingly neutral female voice. There weren’t even pictures of the films or actors as each nominee was read. There’s got to be a way to have a little more fun with this kind of format, and to maybe get a couple of those participating actors to actually read the nominees. Filming ahead of time obviously makes that difficult since the nominees can not be revealed until that morning, but making magic is what Hollywood does. I believe in you, Academy! And whatever you do, bring back Gabourey Sidibe, cause she was the best part of this thing.

As for the nominations themselves, I was a pretty happy man that morning, as much as I can be at the unfathomable hour of 5:18. Not only did I do pretty well with my predictions, but there were several cases where I might have missed a call but found one of my personal picks nominated instead. There were at least three times where I audibly exclaimed, and I don’t remember that happening in many an early Oscar morning. Of the 19 categories in which I made predictions, I went 100% in five (Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Animated Feature, Best Makeup and Hairstyling), and missed by one in 11. I’m good with that.

Here are some thoughts I had on certain categories…

These Best Picture numbers keep getting the best of me. After three years of nine nominees beginning in 2011, I continued predicting nine, but the last two years yielded only eight. So this year I went with eight…and they nominated nine. I did get those eight correct, and right up until publication I was debating whether to add Hidden Figures —and whether to add it as a ninth, or slide it in and take out Fences or Hacksaw Ridge. I decided to stick with eight and keep my initial list intact, but it was great to see Hidden Figures included. It’s a satisfying crowdpleaser bolstered by terrific reviews and genuine social and historical significance that hit its stride at exactly the right time, in the middle of the voting period. The rest of the line-up went as pundits seemed to expect. I could have seen Fences or Hacksaw Ridge having lost enough momentum to be passed over, but they held on.

As is usually the case, the Academy’s picks did not perfectly align with those made by the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), and I was correct that it would be Lion helmer Garth Davis who missed the cut. I thought Martin Scorsese might get the fifth slot, but instead it went to another previous winner, Mel Gibson. This seemed to surprise many people, but not me so much. The industry’s warm embrace of Hacksaw Ridge since its early November debut, and Gibson’s inclusion in the award season melee — from Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominations to a seat at The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual roundtable of directors — were high-profile evidence that the industry had accepted Gibson back into the fold and moved on from the public displays of bad behavior that so damaged his reputation over the past decade.

Then again, Gibson was never quite the pariah during these past years that everyone seems to think he was. He’s always had A-list friends in his corner — like Jodie Foster and Robert Downey, Jr. — who stood by him and expressed their firm belief that the person who did and said those things is not the person Gibson is at heart. Beyond that, he continued to find employment. Foster directed him in the The Beaver; he starred in the Warner Bros. revenge thriller Edge of Darkness, which was a modest hit in 2010; and he took on the antagonist roles in the popcorn action flicks Machete Kills and The Expendables 3. They aren’t exactly Hamlet, but they have an audience. So Gibson never fully went away; he just hasn’t been this openly welcomed in a long time. Perhaps the applause that greet his name when this category comes up on Oscar night will be a bit quieter than that of his fellow nominees; surely not everyone in the room will have forgotten past events. Or maybe his name will be greeted as enthusiastically as the others. The fact that he got the nomination is a victory.

I also need to mention Arrival director Denis Villeneuve and how great it is to see him score his first Oscar nomination (he directed 2010 Best Foreign Language Film nominee Incendies, but that award goes to the country, not the filmmaker, so although he would have accepted the prize had the movie won, he wasn’t the nominee). I’ve been high on Villeneuve since he landed on my radar with his 2013 kidnapping drama Prisoners, and he was among my personal picks in this category last year for Sicario. This guy is a fantastic director, fully in command of the medium and the stories he’s telling. He wasn’t among my personal choices this year, but I only recently had the chance to watch Arrival for a second time, and I definitely got more out of it this time. I might have included it personally in several categories if I’d had a chance to see it twice before the nominations. Whether I would have included him or not, I’m excited by his nomination.

Of the five nominees, Viggo Mortensen was the one who felt the most vulnerable going in, even with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nomination under his belt. But he made it, along his four fellow SAG contenders, and I have to acknowledge it, because Viggo Mortensen is awesome. A great actor and class act all the way (scroll to the end of this recent interview for his story about the dinner he organized for his Captain Fantastic kids after the SAG Awards). He’s one of those actors — Sigourney Weaver, Ed Harris, Bill Murray and Michael Keaton are others that come to mind — who I really really want to see win an Oscar, so with every new role they take on that sounds like it has that sort of potential, I get excited for them and hope that the movie and performance are good enough, and catch the right wave of attention and bring them into the award season orbit. He’s not going to win, but I love that he got the nomination.

I was also happy to see Andrew Garfield score his first nomination. It should have been his second, but he missed out in 2010 for The Social Network. His character is Hacksaw Ridge is a tricky one, so unflappably earnest and pure that he could have come off as laughable. But Garfield found his way into the character’s core and sold the role 100% and then some. It’s been great to see him celebrated for it throughout the season.

The biggest surprise of the morning in terms of an expected nomination that did not come to pass was easily Amy Adams’ absence from the Best Actress list. It’s perplexing for a couple of reasons. One, as I mentioned in the previous post, the Academy adores Adams. Two, the movie was obviously embraced across the Academy, with recognition above the line — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay — and below the line, from Cinematography to Sound Mixing. Given how central her performance and her character’s emotional state is to the entire fabric of the movie, her omission is rather stunning. With nominations not only from nearly every critics organization during Phase One, but also from key bodies like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (distributor of the Golden Globes), BFCA, SAG and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), Adams was considered nearly as sure a thing as sure things Natalie Portman and Emma Stone.

We have to remember, though, that each branch nominates its own, so looking at all the other mentions Arrival earned doesn’t ultimately matter. One hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, and although Adams missed out amongst her peers, I’d wager she collected plenty of votes and came awfully close to making the list.

The question of who took Adams’ perceived spot has a different answer depending on how you saw the nominations going. Some might say it was Elle‘s Isabelle Huppert. By this point in the season, however, I felt Huppert was a good bet. So to me, the surprise is Ruth Negga. She didn’t came out-of-nowhere, having remained consistently in the mix since Loving‘s early November release (in fact the buzz for her and the movie really started last May at the Cannes Film Festival). But given the number of compelling performances that could have been nominated this year, Negga had become a longer shot, and she represents the only nomination received by Loving. I was thrilled to see her recognized, as she was one of my personal picks, but it was a fiercely competitive field, and any number of actresses deserved a spot only to miss out. Chief among them in my eyes are Rebecca Hall and Annette Bening. It was never expected to happen for Hall, unfortunately, but Bening was firmly in the running, so her omission is tough to take. She’s wonderful in 20th Century Women — dry, relaxed, introspective…I’ve never seen her play anyone quite like the character she plays here, and I’m sad she wasn’t honored for it.

I certainly would have preferred to see Bening over Meryl Streep, who earned her 20th nomination, breaking a record previously held by Meryl Streep. I love Meryl as much as anyone, and I enjoyed Florence Foster Jenkins quite a bit — more than I expected to. I have nothing bad to say about Streep’s performance; there was just stronger work this year that deserved recognition.

One the most pleasant surprises among this year’s nominations was Michael Shannon, recognized for his intense, oddly comedic and sad portrayal of a West Texas detective working a case sometimes outside the boundaries of the law. Shannon earned strong reviews and awards buzz when the movie came out, but as the season unfolded it was his co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson who took people by surprise with the most visible recognition (though Shannon was nominated by the BFCA). Taylor-Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award, and pulled off a huge upset by winning the former. That had led most pundits to expect that if anyone from Nocturnal Animals managed a nomination, it would be him. So it came somewhat out of left-field when Shannon’s name closed out the Academy’s list of Supporting Actor nominees. It’s the actor’s second nomination — his first was in 2008 for Revolutionary Road, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates — and in both cases he came up from behind as a long shot. Many people thought he’d be in the running last year for the drama 99 Homes after he earned Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA nominations. It didn’t happen, but his peers celebrated him this year even without any of those accolades boosting his visibility. The nomination is even more surprising because it represents the only one collected by Nocturnal Animals, a film which several other organizations honored in multiple categories. BAFTA was especially high on it, citing it in nine races.

If anyone is seen as missing out at Shannon’s expense, it’s probably Hugh Grant. He received career-best notices for his work opposite Meryl Streep in Florence Foster Jenkins, and odds looked good for him to receive his first nomination. Some pundits seem to think that category confusion may have cost him the honor, as his Golden Globe nomination came for Best Actor (Comedy or Musical) while his other nominations – SAG and BAFTA among them – were for Supporting Actor. I’m not convinced this was a factor. The Golden Globes have a bit more room to play with given their separation of drama and comedy, but Grant’s role pretty clearly is a Supporting one, and I’d be surprised if those Academy voters who did include him on their ballots did so in the Lead Actor category vs. Supporting.


Cheers to the writers for honoring the bizarre and imaginative screenplay for The Lobster, by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou. It didn’t pick up any other nominations, but its premise and execution had to earn it a place here. Hell or High Water, La La Land and Manchester by the Sea were all favorites, but it was tough trying to surmise what might get the fifth spot. I guessed Captain Fantastic, and I know that was a popular choice among other players of this game. I’d have been pleased with that, but I was also happy to see Mike Mills nominated for 20th Century Women, which begins with the great idea of a single mother enlisting the help of two other women in her life to help educate her teenage son in how to be a good man. Mills’ mother was the inspiration for Annette Bening’s character, just as his father inspired the character that Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for playing in Mills’ previous film, Beginners. His script is personal, warm, and generous to all of its characters. Terrific choice by the branch.

It’s also worth pointing out that Hell or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan got his first nomination, a year after missing out for Sicario, which as mentioned above was directed by Denis Villeneuve. That movie should have brought nominations for both of them. Nice to see them both here this year.

I was a little surprised to see Manchester by the Sea miss out on this. This category tends to include the leading Best Picture nominees whether or not they seem to feature the most effective editing, but Manchester does take a somewhat non-linear approach to its story by withholding details of the event that defines Casey Affleck’s character when we meet him. It isn’t until midway through the film that we learn what happened to him, and even then the story is doled out in small fragments within a single sequence.

One nomination of note: Joi Mcmillan, co-editor of Moonlight, becomes the first African-American woman nominated for an Oscar in this category. With the #OscarsSoWhite movement still active in calling attention to the scarcity of women and people of color in behind-the-scenes positions, this recognition is great to see.

Another of my audible exclamations on the morning of the nominations came when Passengers was nominated for Best Production Design. Not only was it among my five personal picks, but I specifically made a point of praising the movie’s design and wondering why no one was talking about it as a contender in this area despite the Academy’s frequent recognition of more traditional “spaceship” movies. Too often, movies that aren’t seen as the Academy’s cup of tea are overlooked in areas where they nevertheless stand out, and not given the consideration they deserve. Although it was released at the height of awards season, Passengers was always a commercial play more than an awards one, but good for Academy voters who gave it a look and recognized its achievement in specific areas, regardless of its overall reception or its intended audience. Further demonstrating the movie’s achievement in this realm: The Art Directors Guild handed Passengers the prize in their Fantasy category, where it topped Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Doctor Strange and Rogue One.

This is one of two categories where my predictions were off by two; I got Arrival, La La Land and Fantastic Beasts; I missed Jackie and Silence. But those two slots went to Passengers and another of my personal picks, Hail, Caesar! (its sole nomination), so I have no complaints.


The nominees here include Jackie, a movie I would have nominated in several categories (sorry, Aunt Geri). This, however, was not one of them, even if it was among my predictions. I would agree that Jackie boasts some of the most striking and beautiful costumes onscreen this year, but when many of those costumes are re-creations of already famous outfits — even iconic, in the case of the pink suit from the day of the assassination — then it irks me to see the results, however impressive, honored over work that didn’t have the benefit of countless photographs and even film footage to guide the design team. While clothes that Mrs. Kennedy wore in more private moments might have had to be imagined, many if not most of the outfits in Jackie are based on things actually worn by the former First Lady and those around her. I don’t want to minimize the difficulties, challenges or ultimate achievement that go into re-creating the design elements — be they costumes or sets — of true-life events, but when you’re singling out the five best achievements of the year, it has always seemed unfair to me when films that had the advantage of historical evidence are celebrated over original works.

Original work like the kind featured in Kubo and the Two Strings, whose vestiary praises I sung in the previous post. Failing to nominate the exceptional work in Kubo — which would have made it the first animated film to receive such an honor, though not the first to deserve it — was a huge missed opportunity for the Costume Design branch. I would love to know if it got a lot of votes and lost by a small number, or if there weren’t many voters who gave it serious consideration. I have to believe the former, because I don’t see how anyone who works as a costume designer and takes their craft seriously could fail to pay due attention to such sumptuous work.

In the previous post I mentioned that with so many strong contenders in the mix, the category probably couldn’t handle three songs from La La Land, which would mean the exclusion of John Legend’s contribution, “Start a Fire.” However I had forgotten the current rule that no more than two songs from a movie can get nominated, so as it turned out the category really couldn’t handle three. But the two expected tunes from La La Land — “City of Stars” and  “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” — made the cut. With 91 songs to choose from, there are obviously a lot of ways for this category to go, but I’m pretty disappointed by the absence of Sia’s “Never Give Up” from Lion and especially “Drive It Like You Stole It” from the sadly underseen Sing Street – omissions that are all the more frustrating when they were partially kept at bay by Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” from Trolls. Okay, everyone loves JT, and the song was an instant hit when it came out last May (seven months before the movie’s release, to capitalize on its summery vibe). It was the best-selling song of the year in the U.S., and it’s fun and energizing and will probably make for a great production number on Oscar night that will have the crowd grooving. But c’mon, this song is the the sugariest stick of bubblegum you could imagine. I’m not saying a song has to be deep or particularly substantive to deserve an Oscar nomination, but “Drive It Like You Stole It” is just as infectious as “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — more so, to my ear — and definitely more interesting lyrically. It doesn’t strive to be much more than a catchy pop song either, but it has a little bit more to say than “feel the music, get up and dance.”

Oh well. What’s done is done. But you should go watch Sing Street. Right now.

Another of my most pleasant nomination surprises came in this category, and once again it was for Passengers. I mentioned Thomas Newman’s score in my predictions post, but didn’t think it had much of a chance. I even lamented that I pushed it off of my personal picks, but it was right there for me, essentially on even ground with the five scores I did pick as my own choices. Newman is Hollywood royalty (his father Alfred is one of the most famous film composers of all time, whose work includes this brief but iconic piece) and a beloved composer who has been nominated in this category 12 times before (and maddeningly, is still seeking his first win). Whether or not his stature among his peers helped him this year or they just dug the music, it was a nomination I was happy to see. Ditto for Mica Levi’s Jackie score, which was also one of my personal picks, but one I thought might be too odd and untraditional to penetrate deeply enough into the ranks of the music branch. Happily, they surprised me. Less happily, they also surprised me by passing over Abel Korzeniowski’s lush, romantic Nocturnal Animals score, which has a classic, old-school Hollywood feel that I thought would be a big appeal to this crowd. Maybe it was, but not enough so to crack the final five.

Most people with an interest in visual effects were probably surprised by the inclusion of Deepwater Horizon, and I would have been too had I not attended the branch’s Bake-Off event, as I discussed in the previous post. Hearing the VFX supervisor talk about his team’s work made me realize how deserving the movie was, and I was glad the voters felt the same way. The bigger question mark was whether or not they would honor the stop-motion animated Kubo and the Two Strings. I wasn’t sure they would, as my predictions showed, nor was I sure they should, as my commentary expressed. But despite my mixed feelings, I have to say that seeing the movie show up on the list of nominees brought me a big smile. Even though I didn’t include it among my personal picks, I knew what a triumph it was for everyone up at Laika Entertainment to receive this nomination — only the second ever for an animated film.

I thought the spot that ended up going to Kubo would be given to Arrival, given the branch’s frequent tendency to nominate at least one “prestige” film. Among the ten films left in the running when the Bake-Off was held, Arrival was the only one in serious running for Best Picture and other top awards, so history led me to expect it among the final five. The movie’s visual effects look great, but in a tough year that also could have resulted in deserved nominations for Passengers and Captain America: Civil War, I think the final picks represent a terrific array of work.


When discussing the sound categories in my predictions post, and the wide array of films from which they could come, I named 16 titles that I thought represented the field. Even with that many, I still left one off that ended up getting nominated for Sound Mixing: Michael Bay’s 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, a movie that came out way the hell back in January 2016, the day after last year’s Oscar nominations were announced. I was an idiot not to have kept this movie on my radar; Bay’s movies tend to do well in the sound categories, and had I remembered it, I definitely would have had it among my list of movies to consider, whether or not I’d have ultimately predicted a nomination. So that was a glaring oversight on my part.

I didn’t include La La Land in my predictions for Sound Editing because musicals and music-centric movies never get nominated here. Sound Mixing, yes. Sound Editing, no. I knew this movie could potentially be the one to change that, but I went with precedent. Sure enough, it came through, pushing La La Land to a record-tying 14 nominations, and ruining all future chances when making predictions in this category of saying, “Musicals never get nominated for Sound Editing.” So thanks for that, Academy. As if this isn’t hard enough…

As usual, I didn’t make predictions in this category, having not seen any of the films in the mix. But I was aware of the movies in the running, and aware that one of the most frequent winners from critic’s groups was O.J.: Made in America, a nearly eight-hour sociological deep dive into the life, professional career and downfall of O.J. Simpson. The project was created for television as part of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, but because it was briefly exhibited in movie theaters in New York and Los Angeles, it qualified for Oscar consideration and made the cut. Count me among the contingent that finds this unfair. Yes, technically the movie qualifies. But this was not created to be a theatrical documentary, and it’s not right that other films — which were intended to be films (not epic television projects) and had to work within a traditional theatrical running time — should have to be measured against a piece that had hours more to explore its subject and tell its story. Regardless of how good it is – and by all accounts it’s an incredible piece of work – it shouldn’t be considered alongside other films whose directors had to make harder choices about what to sacrifice and what to focus on. The movie is considered the frontrunner, but if I were one of the other nominated filmmakers, I’d find it extremely frustrating not to be judged on a relatively even playing field.

On a more positive note, the great Ava DuVernay — who should have been a Best Director nominee in 2014 for Selma — is a nominee now for her doc 13th, which argues that the mass incarceration of African-Americans is effectively the continuation of slavery. Hopefully this is the first of many Oscar nominations DuVernay will collect in time. (By the way, 13th‘s distributor Netflix has addressed the disparity in running time with O.J.: Made in America by putting out billboards and banner ads that highlight its more traditional length.)

Now then…I can’t wrap this post up without commenting on one aspect of this year’s nominations that has already been frequently-discussed. Much of the reporting in the minutes and days after the announcement centered on the inclusion of several actors of color among the nominees, as well as three films in the Best Picture category focused on African-American characters. Many outlets were quick to declare #OscarsSoWhite a thing of the past. This year’s nominations indeed take us in the direction we should be heading, but let’s not be too quick to declare Hollywood a post-racial paradise of inclusion.

First of all, none of these movies — Moonlight, Fences or Hidden Figures — arrived in theaters as a reaction to the past two years’ unfortunate lack of diverse stories and performers nominated for Oscars. Movies take a long time to make. They take a long time to write, a long time to gestate and develop, and a long time to land financing. That’s all before the cast and crew takes shape and the movie actually gets shot and then edited and assembled in post-production. It doesn’t happen in a year’s time. It seldom happens in even two years’ time. That means these movies were already in the works. If anything, they may have been put on an accelerated track for release to ensure they hit theaters within a year of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, but whenever they were going to arrive, the important thing to remember is that they were going to arrive.    Whether or not they would have gained traction with the Academy in a different year would be subject to all the other movies in the mix, but you can safely bet they would all still have been in play. The fact remains, however, that the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag will be hiding in the wings, ready to be dusted off and displayed again anytime the year’s most celebrated movies do not reflect the diversity of the real world.

Of course, directing that rallying cry at the Oscars was misguided from the start, as the problem is not with the Oscars but with the studios and producers who decide with their millions of dollars what movies get made. The more movies depicting varied cultural, racial and sexual characters and experiences, the more likely that audiences will find those movies, that critics will champion those movies, and that award-giving bodies will honor those movies. It’s all about what gets made. That’s where the focus should be. The Academy has been making big moves toward diversity for longer than the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag has existed, and as positive and important as those moves are, they’re not going to solve the problem of more diverse representation at the Oscars. So by all means, enjoy the representation featured among this year’s  nominees, but don’t yet claim the battle for diversity is won. Let’s see how things look in two years, four years and beyond. That’s the test.

Now with that said, let’s end things on a fun note…assuming that you find any of this fun. Each year in my Favorite Movies of the Year post, I put forth some nominations for Oscar categories that don’t exist but are fun to consider. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to complete one of those posts since the 2013 list, so I’m transferring my fake Oscar categories here instead. From my one-man Academy, which is not bound by the five-roster rule, my categories and nominees are:


[Larger Versions: The Birth of a Nation (Noose); The Birth of a Nation (Flag); Patriots Day; Certain Women; 13th; The Handmaiden; Jackie; Pride & Prejudice & Zombies; De Palma]

Fences (Teaser #1); La La Land (City of Stars Teaser); La La Land (Audition Teaser); Zoolander 2 (Teaser)

Captain Fantastic – Jeanne McCarthy
Hell or High Water – Jo Edna Boldin, Richard Hicks
Indignation – Avy Kaufman
Little Men – Avy Kaufman
Loving – Francine Maisler
Manchester by the Sea – Douglas Aibel
Moonlight – Yesi Ramirez
Other People – Allison Jones
Silence – Ellen Lewis

20th Century Women; A Bigger Splash; Captain Fantastic; Fences; Hidden Figures; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight; Nocturnal Animals; Other People; Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Julian Dennison – Hunt for the Wilderpeople
Alex R. Hibbert – Moonlight
Madina Nalwanga – Queen of Katwe
Sunny Pawar – Lion
Lewis McDougall – A Monster Calls
Angourie Rice – The Nice Guys
Trevante Rhodes – Moonlight
Ashton Sanders – Moonlight
Neel Sethi – The Jungle Book
Hayden Setzo – The Edge of Seventeen
Theo Taplitz – Little Men

Mahershala Ali (Free State of Jones, Hidden Figures, Moonlight)
Michael Shannon (Complete Unknown, Midnight Special, Loving, Nocturnal Animals)
Michael Stuhlbarg (Arrival, Doctor Strange, Miles Ahead, Miss Sloane)
Rachel Weisz (Complete Unknown, Denial, The Light Between Oceans, The Lobster)
The Woods (Captain Fantastic, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, The Jungle Book, The Lobster, Pete’s Dragon, Swiss Army Man, The Witch)

20th Century Women; Deadpool; Everybody Wants Some!; La La Land; Sing Street

10 Cloverfield Lane; Deadpool; Nocturnal Animals; A Monster Calls

A Bigger Splash; Deadpool; The Jungle Book; Kubo and the Two Strings



February 14, 2016

Oscars 2015: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 7:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Complete List of Nominees

And so we are deep into Phase Two of awards season, with the Oscar nominations announced and the guild awards rolling out. I’ve already been asked several times who’s going to win the Oscar in this category or that. To which I’ve responded, “Does it matter? They’re all a bunch of racists, apparently, so who even wants one?”

Unfortunately, that’s where we have to begin this year, as the nominations set off a firestorm of controversy when acclaimed films about black characters like Straight Outta Compton, Beasts of No Nation and Creed were not nominated for Best Picture, and for the second year in a row, all the acting nominees are white.

A lot has already been said about this topic. Like…a lot. It’s been in the news nearly every day since the nominations were announced. I wrote about this in last year’s corresponding post, and having just re-read that, I feel it’s pretty spot-on, thank you. I don’t know what I can add this year, especially with so much already said by so many others. But it’s too big a story to ignore. I can’t get wrapped up in all the awards nonsense and spend all the time I spend writing about the Oscars and not wade into this mess. The whole reason I’m posting this a month after the nominations were announced is that I’ve been trying to stay abreast of all the developments and respond to specific points that have been made, but it’s been too much to keep up with. So for now, I’m going to leave it alone, and hopefully get to it in the next post. At this point, it’s well past time to review the nominations, so let’s stick to that.

It was another middling year for me on the predictions front. Of the 19 categories I covered, I only went five-for-five in two: Best Actor and (somehow) Best Sound Mixing. But in 10 others, I missed by just one…though perhaps I lose a point for expecting Alicia Vikander’s Best Supporting Actress nomination to be for Ex Machina. The Academy voters cited her for The Danish Girl — clearly a lead performance, but one that the studio campaigned as Supporting to give her better odds at a nomination.

Let’s drill down into some of the categories, shall we? While you want to glory in being as accurate in your predictions as possible, there’s also fun in seeing where you went wrong and what unfolded that went against your instincts, where your theorizing went wrong, and where it went right. If you consider any of this fun, that is.

I once again predicted there would be nine nominees, and for the second year in a row there were only eight. I got seven of them, but missed Room. I opted for Carol instead, and also included Inside Out. In the previous post, I mentioned Room and Carol as movies I’d read were not being received as enthusiastically by Academy members as they were by critics. Goes to show that you can never be be sure how 6,000+ people are going to come down on something. Because Carol director Todd Haynes is a more established filmmaker than Room‘s director Lenny Abrahamson, I thought Carol would have a stronger base of support and would make the cut thanks to a small but passionate contingent. Instead, Room turned out to be the movie that got the necessary boost, and I’m thrilled to see it here.

As for Inside Out, I had thought that given its level of acclaim, it would have found a place here just like previous Pixar efforts Up and Toy Story 3 did in 2009 and 2010. But after the nominations were announced, I became aware of something I hadn’t realized. In 2009 and 2010 — the two years where the Academy went with a guaranteed slate of ten Best Picture nominees — voters were asked to list ten movies on their ballots. (I knew that part.) Beginning in 2011, however, when the change was made to a system that would result in anywhere from five to ten nominees, ballots reverted back to just five choices for voters to write down. I didn’t know that. If I had, I wouldn’t have predicted a nomination for Inside Out. With ten selections to make, voters are more likely to honor an animated film. With only five selections, they’re more likely to stick with live action and leave movies like Inside Out to the Animated Feature category. Live and learn.

Mad Max: Fury Road, meanwhile, overcame historical odds and landed in the Best Picture race, coming in behind The Revenant as the second most nominated movie of the year. In the narrow scope of this year’s award season, it may not be surprising, but given how outside the Academy’s “top award” box this movie is, the fact that it’s now a Best Picture nominee is pretty astonishing. It’s great to see the Academy recognize the artfulness of this movie — both the staging and creation of its incredible action, but also the character drama and underlying themes that propel the story. The movie is more than one big car chase, and the Academy’s recognition is a ringing endorsement of that fact.

The most surprising omission from this year’s nominees came in this category, with The Martian director Ridley Scott being left out. He was supposed to be one of the day’s absolute sure things, with many at that point already dubbing him the sentimental favorite to win. Whether his omission was a matter of too many voters deliberately choosing elsewhere, or a matter of them thinking he was a lock and therefore giving their vote to someone else — something I suspect happened to Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow in 2012 — we’ll never know. I didn’t think Scott deserved a nomination for The Martian, so I’m okay with his absence. I loved the movie and he did a great job with it, but it didn’t strike me as such a strong directorial achievement as to be singled out among the year’s five best.

I only guessed three out of five in this category, expecting Scott to get in, and going for Steven Spielberg over Adam McKay. Overlooking McKay was a dumb move. I knew The Big Short was apparently doing really well with Academy members, and with the DGA nomination under his belt, I shouldn’t have underestimated him. I thought his comedy background would hinder his chances with this crowd. But the evidence for his nomination was all there, and I ignored it.

The other big surprise in the category was the man who took Scott’s perceived slot: Room’s Lenny Abrahamson. He was a real longshot, not expected to go the distance. So not only were those rumblings about Academy members staying away from Room unreliable, they belied how taken with the movie voters actually were. It may have only landed four nominations, but it was never going to place in the crafts categories, so its showing in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay is a huge victory. Too bad the actors branch couldn’t overcome their reticence to nominate children by recognizing the movie’s not-so-secret weapon, Jacob Tremblay. Given the enthusiasm for the movie, you’d think voters would have gone to bat for him. But with the exception of Best Picture, each branch votes for their own, and apparently not enough actors could find a place for him, even though their SAG counterparts did.

I was mildly surprised that Charlotte Rampling made the cut. Many pundits expected her to be nominated, but I left her off my list, thinking 45 Years was too small to get noticed, and her performance too subtle and quiet to stand out. I also thought the lack of a BAFTA nomination was a big omen, but I was obviously wrong. She made it…and promptly killed her chances with some poorly worded comments on the diversity controversy (seriously, Charlotte…you’re not helping.) No no, I’m kidding: ignorant and tone-deaf as her comments were, she didn’t kill her chances. She never had a chance. Her nomination is her reward.

Of all the non-white actors who were in the conversation this year, the one with the best odds of a nomination seemed to be Beasts of No Nation‘s Idris Elba. As we know, it didn’t happen. Some blamed the fact that Netflix didn’t have experience mounting an Oscar campaign. Some blamed the movie’s difficult subject matter. Some blamed a bias against black actors. The film’s subject matter is the only one of those possibilities I believe might have been a factor. But I’d bet a lot of people did watch the movie, and I’d bet a lot of those people did vote for Elba. Just not enough, in the end…though interestingly, he did go on to win the SAG award. Sylvester Stallone, Mark Rylance and Christian Bale survived from Phase One, while Mark Ruffalo and Tom Hardy — who were largely absent from the precursor awards — found a place too. I’ve been baffled all along by the consistent inclusion of Bale. He’s a great actor, of course, and I enjoyed him in The Big Short, but I just don’t see it as an award-worthy performance at all. If anyone from that movie should have been singled out, it was Steve Carell, and even he wouldn’t have made my cut. I remain disappointed that Jacob Tremblay didn’t get nominated for Room, as I mentioned above. He would really belong in Best Actor, but that was never going to happen, so Best Supporting Actor would have been his spot if he had made it. Still, Tremblay seems okay with being passed over. He’s having a blast, Instagramming his way from one starry red carpet event to another and making the talk show rounds, proving hilarious and adorable at every turn.

Despite a lot of attention paid to category fraud this year, Academy voters fell in line with studio campaigning and nominated Carol‘s Rooney Mara and The Danish Girl‘s Alicia Vikander in this category, despite both actresses being co-leads in their films. Vikander received far more attention during Phase 1 for her role in Ex Machina, but The Danish Girl always seemed more in the Academy’s wheelhouse. I still thought, as did several others, that her many critics citations for Ex Machina would translate here, but it did turn out to be The Danish Girl that earned her a nomination. She’s superb in both movies, so…either way, really.

It’s great to see Jennifer Jason Leigh finally earn an Oscar nomination after years of excellent work, and although Rachel McAdams has been around for far less time, she’s a versatile and always reliable actress, so it’s nice to see her here too. I wasn’t convinced she would make it for her strong but unassuming work in Spotlight, but the movie — whose fortunes some thought might be fading when the nominations came around — is still making a big impression on people.

After Ridley Scott, the second most shocking omission this year came in this category, with Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs script failing to make the cut. This one astounds me. It should be the winner here, as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t read the source material for any of these contenders, but who are we kidding: neither have the voters. No one is ever really evaluating this category by how successfully the source material is translated to the screen. They’re going off the movie itself. Even without reading the source material, I doubt that any of the nominees — all of whom did excellent work — crafted anything as creative, unique, or just plain smart as what Sorkin did with Steve Jobs. Very disappointing.

My risk in predicting The Assassin didn’t pan out, as the voters in the Cinematography branch stuck with a more expected set of nominees. Despite all the fanfare over The Hateful Eight‘s 70mm shoot and use of anamorphic lenses literally not employed since the 1960s, I thought the film’s mostly interior settings would hurt its chances. Not so, with three-time winner Robert Richardson earning his ninth nomination. Not at all undeserved; I just wasn’t sure it would happen.

I was a little surprised to see The Revenant here. So much of the film’s settings and locations are natural landscapes; beautiful, but not appearing to require the work of a production designer so much as a location scout. That’s not to diminish the work that did go into the film from an art and set decoration perspective, but it does seem that with so much good design efforts to consider, this slot might have been more deserved by something like Carol, Crimson Peak or Ex Machina.

Again, The Revenant is a bit of a head-scratcher to me. Clearly, as evidenced by the field-leading 12 nominations, Academy members across all branches were big-time in the bag for this movie. But this nomination — and the Production Design nod, to a lesser extent — strike me as the kind of unimaginative thinking that leads voters to just fill in a favorite movie all the way down the line without really considering the options. If members of the Costume Branch were taken with the look of heavy furs and 1800s winter wardrobes, they’d have made a better choice going for The Hateful Eight, where the costumes at least had some creative flair. And for a branch that usually prizes color and elegance above all, a nod for the drab outfits of The Revenant over Brooklyn or Crimson Peak is curious.

Poor Vin Diesel. This was the one category where Furious 7 actually stood a decent chance of earning a nomination, but it didn’t happen. Diesel’s Oscar dreams have died hard this year, but he surely has another half-dozen Fast and Furious movies coming down the road that could finally end the series’ inexplicable Oscar drought. Keep on truckin,’ Vin.

At least Fifty Shades of Grey is now an Academy Award nominee.

Still trying to figure out what the hell The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared is.

I did surprisingly well in these categories, nailing the Mixing lineup and missing Editing  by just one. The frequent trend of four common nominees between the two categories and one loner in each continued, and I correctly guessed the shared contenders: Fury Road, The Force Awakens, The Revenant and The Martian. My shot in the dark that Bridge of Spies would land in Sound Mixing turned out to be right – go figure. I may ostensibly understand the general definition of these two categories, but I still don’t really get it, or have any idea how to evaluate it. Nevertheless, I know enough to know they made a good call by including Sicario in Sound Editing. The sound work in that movie was stellar, and huge contributor to its incredible sense of tension that was sustained throughout.


Chris Rock copyThat’s really all I have to say about the nominees at this stage. The big show is two weeks away, so we’ll see each other before then. Chris Rock is hosting, and in this year of racial controversy, who better to comment on the drama? I have a great idea for the opening of the show. The announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your host for the evening, Chris Rock!” And out walks Louis C.K., nodding and doing his understated, I’m-kind-of-uncomfortable-right-now Louis C.K. thing. “I…I know you were expecting Chris. You were probably expecting Idris Elba or Will Smith too, but you know…anyway the Academy quietly decided that in keeping with the theme this year…” and then he’d just kinda point to his face with a telling look. And it would go on for a minute until they figured a way to get Rock out there. I imagine maybe Louis calling Chris and tracking him down to Jerry Seinfeld’s house. They put Jerry on screen, Chris is over his place just hanging out in a tux, Louis and Jerry convince Chris that the show needs him, he agrees to come, and then Jerry drives him over, the ride becoming a riff on Seinfeld’s web series, this time called Comedians in Cars Getting Oscars. I dunno — it’s a work in progress. I’ve got two weeks to figure out the second part, but the opener is gold.

Anyway, after three years of being produced by Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who insisted on stuffing the show with musical numbers, this year’s producing duties fall to the ebony and ivory team of Reginald Hudlin and David Hill. Hudlin is a writer/producer/director/executive with many credits in film and television, while Hill is best known for his work on live sporting events. Interestingly, Hudlin and Hill were talking about a focus on diversity at the show months ago, long before the nominees were determined. They’ve stated that diversity also means taking into account movies that are popular with audiences but don’t necessarily find themselves represented at the Oscars. (Furious 7, you may yet get your moment in the Oscar sun.). Hill, whose work in the sports world often focused on telling personal stories of the athletes in the game, talked of bringing that kind of device to the Oscars as a way to better acquaint audiences with nominees in the below-the-line categories. He also said he wants to construct the show in such a way that the awards are not given out in a totally random order, but that they have a flow and build to night’s final award, Best Picture. So…pretty much they’re talking about doing what was done for the 2008 awards, which is probably the overall best and most creatively produced Oscar ceremony I’ve ever seen, and did almost everything Hudlin and Hill have talked about, except for personalizing the lesser known nominees. Not a bad model to emulate. One idea I’m not crazy about, which was introduced earlier this week at the nominee’s luncheon, was asking all nominees to submit in advance a list of people they’d like to thank, and then the list will scroll across the bottom of the screen like a 24-hour news ticker. The idea is to encourage the winners to say something interesting during their time on stage, as opposed to just reading a list of names that have personal significance to them, but mean nothing to anybody watching. I understand the instinct, but the idea seems pretty crass to me. I kinda hope most people just don’t submit anything.

Okay…I’m sure nobody reading this cares about any of this stuff, so I’ll end it here. Your time would be better spent catching up on nominated movies.

(Class of 2015 photo from Nominee Luncheon. Click image to enlarge and scan for recognizable faces.)



February 14, 2015

Oscars 2014: And the Nominees Are…

Filed under: Movies,Oscars — DB @ 4:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Complete List of Nominees

Yes. The Oscars are next weekend. Which makes this post, like, three weeks overdue. So instead of devoting precious time to self-deprecating commentary about that, I’ll get right into it. As always, the morning of the Oscar nominations offered surprises both satisfying and disappointing. In a nice move that I hope becomes a new tradition, all 24 categories were announced live, instead of just the usual “top” ones. J.J. Abrams and reigning Best Director Alfonso Cuarón handled the first part, followed by Chris Pine and Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs with the big categories as well as some additional below-the-line races. As is my usual habit, I got up at 5:30 in the morning to watch the announcement live, and had to settle for local TV news coverage since apparently E! Entertainment Television — a channel entirely dedicated to covering the entertainment industry — didn’t feel that the Academy Award nominations merited interrupting a block of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. And the local news channel couldn’t be bothered to air the full announcement, cutting to a commercial in the middle of Abrams reading the nominees for Best Animated Feature. Nice move, dipshits. Luckily the event is preserved on YouTube, so I can go back and relive all the excitement for years to come.


Okay, so the excitement was minimal.  It could have used some of the playfulness that Seth MacFarlane and Emma Stone brought to the shorter announcement two years ago. Still, it was nice to see all the nominees get their due with a public acknowledgement instead of being relegated to a press release. And by the way, what was up with Isaacs bizarre pronunciations of really simple names and titles? I’ll forgive her the slip-up of calling Best Cinematography nominee Dick Pope “Dick Poop,” which she immediately corrected, but what about the way she kept saying Richard Linklater as if his name was a three-parter: Richard Link Later. Or the distinct emphasis she placed on “The” in The Theory of Everything when announcing Best Actress nominee Felicity Jones. I know it’s early in the morning, but these are not hard names.

I had a middling year in terms of my predictions. There was no category in which I went 100%, though perhaps the judges will give me partial points for Best Picture. I predicted there would be nine nominees, and there were only eight…but my nine included the eight that made it, so that’s something, right? In 12 categories, I was only off by one, which matches my guesses from last year. But my average was dragged down by having my single worst category since I’ve been keeping track, with only one of the five Best Sound Mixing predictions correct.

Here are some thoughts, category by category…omitting a few where I have nothing to say at this stage.

This was the fourth year that there could have been anywhere between five and ten nominees, and I said in my last post that I would continue to guess nine — the tally for the past three years — until I had evidence not too. Well, now I’ll have to figure out what to do next year, based on only eight movies making the cut this time around. The one I had anticipated which didn’t make it was Nightcrawler, which had reportedly been playing like gangbusters with Academy members. Those reports are probably true, but apparently there wasn’t quite enough support to hit the necessary number of votes that would have secured a nomination.

After all of my skepticism and fretting, the Academy finally embraced Wes Anderson, with The Grand Budapest Hotel scoring nine nominations, tying with Birdman for the most of the year. But the big story out of the nominations was the disappointingly weak showing for Selma, which did score one of the year’s coveted Best Picture nominations, but only managed one other, for Best Original Song. It was absent from key races in which many, including myself, thought — or at least hoped — it would be recognized. Ava DuVernay missed out on a Best Director nomination, David Oyelowo didn’t make the Best Actor list, and the screenplay was overlooked as well. Cinematography and Editing might also have been possibilities had the film been embraced. Selma‘s underwhelming presence, combined with the blinding whiteness of the 20 acting nominees, led some impetuous voices (Al Sharpton, special interest groups like ColorOfChange.org) to proclaim racial motivations, while more level-headed responses (producer Reginald Hudlin, author Mark Harris) understood that several factors were likely at play, and racism was among the lesser of them.

As the latter two commenters — and several others as well — have noted, the problem is not with the Academy but with the industry at large. The film industry simply doesn’t create enough opportunities — in any capacity, on either side of the camera — for non-whites, or to a lesser but still highly problematic extent, for women. (Jessica Chastain touched on this issue in a wonderful, eloquent speech the evening the Oscar nominations were announced, when she was presented with an award by the Broadcast Film Critics Association for her body of work in 2014.) So taking the Academy to task is the wrong battle right from the start. Yes, the 2012 Los Angeles Times report about the Academy’s demographics, which was referenced in almost all of these reactions to the Selma omissions, shows that the Academy is overwhelmingly white, male and older. But so is the entire industry (white and male, at least; I’m not sure about older). Until that changes, the Academy can only do so much. And it is doing something. The organization extended invitations to far more people in 2013 and 2014 than it typically used to per year, and the desire for greater diversity has been the driving force behind this. Even Spike Lee, a critic of the Academy’s problems in this area and someone who has been personally affected by them, acknowledges that efforts to broaden the membership have been happening (while mincing no words about Driving Miss Daisy‘s victory in the same year that his seminal race relations masterpiece Do the Right Thing earned only a Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor nomination). But it will still take time to flush out the ranks and turn this crusty Caucasian sausage party into a membership that has greater balance among races and genders.

I could go much further into all of this — it deserves its own post, really — but this piece is already weeks overdue, and most of what I’d say has already been well covered by others. To that point, this article from Vulture is a great overview of some of the problems that befell Selma‘s Oscar campaign, pairing nicely with observations in the Mark Harris piece linked to above. Also, to the discussion about DVD screeners not reaching key voting groups in time to make a difference, I would add Kris Tapley’s remarks from the comments section of an article he wrote on In Contention, where he points out:

With screeners going out around 12/19, arriving 12/21 — typically mailings for directors and actors don’t arrive direct. They go to agencies. Which were more or less closed by then for the holiday. I have little doubt a great many people didn’t get their screener until after the New Year, and by then, voting was already well underway (and I’ve even heard from some who got paper ballots a full week before the end of the year this season, which is odd).

In addition, Ava DuVernay herself said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly conducted about a month before the nominations were announced that she did not expect to be in the final five, citing her lack of connections within the Academy. I don’t think that necessarily makes a difference, as I’m sure some past nominees have received the nod from their peers without being entrenched in their ranks. But maybe we’re all a lot more shocked on her behalf than she is herself. I should also say that yes, Ava DuVernay would have been the first African-American woman nominated for Best Director (and only the fifth woman at all) had things gone that way, but that should not have been the reason to vote for her. The reason to vote for her should have been that she demonstrated superb directorial skill in realizing Selma. Simple as that.

Like Mark Harris, I won’t be so naïve as to say a form of institutionalized racism was not at play in any way. The EW article about DuVernay quotes an anonymous Academy member saying, “It’s almost like because she is African-American, we should have made her one of the nominees. I think that’s racist. Look at what we did last year with 12 Years.” That last bit could be interpreted in a few ways, and one of them (just one; I don’t know what this member intended to convey) suggests that by voting for 12 Years a Slave, the Academy has met its quota of acknowledging “the black experience.” Would it surprise me if there were a small number of voters who felt that way, whether or not the speaker was one of them? No, it wouldn’t. (For what it’s worth, some Oscar journalists have brought up the fact that many Academy members privately admitted to voting for 12 Years a Slave last year without having seen it.) I’d wonder, though, if voters who held that opinion would feel that honoring The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech and The Artist over three consecutive years was too much recognition of “the white experience.” It’s also difficult to watch Selma take heavier hits over questions of its historical accuracy than films like The Imitation Game, American Sniper and Foxcatcher and not wonder why the film coming under the most vocal fire for dramatizing real-life events is the one directed by the black woman, depicting a story about black characters and their battle against an oppressive, largely white system. Of course, these annual attacks are ridiculous to begin with. These movies aren’t documentaries, and are not — contrary to what an another anonymous Academy member says in the EW piece, regarding Selma‘s depiction of Lyndon B. Johnson — “obligated to present it [history] correctly.” These movies are fictionalized versions of true events, and as such they are entitled to dramatic license.

At the end of the day though, I just don’t buy the racism thing. In the industry, yes, but not in the Academy. This is an organization that awarded Gone With the Wind‘s Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 (and don’t start in with the fact that she was playing a servant). If the number of black performers who have won since then is low compared to white performers, well again, the Academy can only reflect the industry. Have there been performances by black actors and actresses that should have been nominated and weren’t? Absolutely. Just like there have been performances by non-black actors that should have been nominated and weren’t. Bottom line, only five people get nominated per category, and outstanding work finds itself sidelined every year. But if the Academy were comprised of a bunch of racists, they wouldn’t nominate actors of color at all. Racism isn’t selective. It doesn’t come and go from year to year. If an institution and its members are racist, they’re consistently racist, at least until enough new people who embrace acceptance arrive in large enough numbers to change the institution’s actions. Selma and most of its filmmakers were not nominated this year, and no performers of color were nominated this year, and that’s unfortunate. But it’s not because one year after the success of 12 Years a Slave, Academy members’ latent racism suddenly flared up. In the last 10 years, Jamie Foxx, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, Octavia Spencer and Lupita Nyong’o have all won Oscars. In the same period, nominations have gone to Don Cheadle, Jamie Foxx (in addition to his win), Sophie Okenedo, Terrence Howard, Will Smith, Djimon Hounsou, Eddie Murphy, Ruby Dee, Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis (twice), Morgan Freeman (in addition to his win), Gabourey Sidibe, Denzel Washington, Quvenzhané Wallis, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Barkhad Abdi. Other non-whites who have won in the same period? Well, only Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz. But nominations went to Catalina Sandino Moreno, Penélope Cruz (twice in addition to her win), Adriana Barraza, Rinko Kikuchi, Javier Bardem (in addition to his win) and Demián Bichir. All totaled, yes, these numbers are far fewer than they are for white nominees. But if the industry makes fewer movies in which actors of various ethnicities have the opportunity to play great roles, the Academy is not to blame. Even if those movies and roles exist, they have to earn enough acclaim and attention to become part of the Academy conversation in the first place. And even then they have to be lucky enough to break into the list of five nominees. There are always politics at play when it comes to Oscar nominees and winners, but they’re seldom the politics of race. Ejiofor, Abdi and Nyong’o were all nominated last year, but Fruitvale Station‘s Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer were not, nor were Forest Whitaker or Oprah Winfrey for Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Were those four actors the victims of a racist agenda? Or were they the victims of only five nominations available per category and a surplus of deserving contenders, just like Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Oscar Isaac, Emma Thompson, Julie Delpy, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Daniel Brühl, among even more? If the Academy had a race problem, it wouldn’t have nominated or awarded all those people named above. If the Academy were not interested in non-white stories, its members wouldn’t have voted Best Picture nominations to Babel, Letters from Iwo Jima, Slumdog Millionaire, Precious, The Help, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave and yes, Selma.

Keep in mind that while we talk about the Academy as this giant Thing!, it does not operate on a hive mentality. The Oscar nominations and winners are not decided by a committee sitting around a table arguing and debating. They are decided by roughly 6,000 individual people expressing their own opinions, and then having those opinions collected and tallied.

Finally, let’s remember this above all: no one is entitled to an Oscar nomination. The way people like Al Sharpton and others who decried the all-white acting races and the omission of Selma talk about the situation, you would think that Ava DuVernay or David Oyelowo or Get on Up‘s dynamo Chadwick Boseman were promised Oscar nominations only to have those promises revoked at the last minute. There will always be great work that is passed over for an Oscar nomination, and I have certainly spent my fair share of time ranting about such cases over the years. But it’s all part of the game, and sometimes the movie and the actor you want to receive that honor just doesn’t receive it. Even though everybody thinks they should have. Sometimes they just don’t. The complaining about it is part of what keeps us engaged with the whole circus in the first place. But when that complaining morphs into defiance and allegations and legitimate outrage, it’s time to take a few steps back, get some perspective on what we’re talking about, and demonstrate a little understanding of how processes work before you start convening panels to address them.

All of that said, Ava DuVernay should totally have been nominated.

Whew. I said I wouldn’t get get too deep into this, and look what happened. Okay, just a couple more observations about these two categories. Of the people who did get nominated for Best Director, four of them were widely expected. The fifth slot, which some thought would go to DuVernay and others thought might go to Director’s Guild of America (DGA) nominee Clint Eastwood, instead went to Foxcatcher‘s Bennett Miller. It wasn’t a total shock — he was considered a possibility — but few had him in their final five. Interestingly, Foxcatcher was not one of the eight Best Picture nominees, making Miller the first person to be nominated for Best Director without a Best Picture nomination since 2009’s expansion of Best Picture beyond five nominees. I do wonder — and I’m probably not alone — if Miller benefitted from a boost in support after Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher, went on a vicious social media tirade against the film and Miller in late December, suddenly attacking a project he had supported all along. He offered a reserved apology soon after, and several more apologetic tweets after the nominations came out, specifically addressing Miller at certain points, but that initial outburst was lathered in vitriol. Could it have moved some of Miller’s fellow directors to show their support by voting for him? Not that Miller couldn’t have simply earned the nomination 100% because members of the branch admired his work, but these outside factors always make one wonder.

Lastly, American Sniper made the Best Picture list too, though I can think of at least a half-dozen other movies more deserving. Sniper just isn’t that great. I didn’t dislike it, but it’s really nothing special and I’m baffled by all the love. If you watched the clip of the Chris Pine and Cheryl Boone Isaacs above, did you notice that each of Sniper‘s nominations elicited cheers and applause from some of the journalists in attendance? I don’t get it. The movie tread on familiar ground that was covered more compellingly and effectively in The Hurt Locker and last year’s Lone Survivor. It was solid, but by no means one of the year’s best movies. Yet America has embraced it like it was delivered forth by Jesus himself. It entered wide release the day after the nominations were announced, and won an enormous box office victory over Martin Luther King Jr. Day Weekend, bringing in unprecedented numbers for a January release and breaking records along the way. I could bring up the ironies around American Sniper doing such amazing business during that particular timeframe while the movie about the man whose legacy is meant to be honored and remembered on that day struggles to find an audience, but you probably see them for yourself. There’s a lot more to explore with this movie as well, regarding why it’s such a massive hit and why it’s been so controversial, but this time I really am avoiding those waters, if for no other reason than how little they have to do with the movie’s Oscar standing.

We sort of covered David Oyelowo in the previous section, so let’s see what else happened here. I’m not surprised Steve Carell was nominated. Despite his (and Foxcatcher‘s) inconsistent fortunes throughout Phase One of the season, I felt pretty sure that the acting branch would speak up for his unsettling, change-of-pace work. My mistake was thinking that in an effort to deal with a painfully overcrowded field, they would take the same course as BAFTA and shift him into Best Supporting Actor. (Also because that’s probably where he really belongs, though I can see the argument for Lead.) But they kept him in Best Actor, and so it turns out those four guys who seemed like locks as far back as October — Carell, Cumberbatch, Keaton and Redmayne — managed to stay in the game, leaving only one open spot and slew of worthy contenders. I can’t believe it was Bradley Cooper. I’m sorry, but no way. Cooper is great, and I was 100% enthusiastic about his previous two nominations, for Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. But this? No way. There is nothing about his performance or character even remotely as interesting or exciting as Jake Gyllenhaal’s in Nightcrawler, and nothing as powerful or magnetic as Oyelowo’s in Selma. Those were the two I thought would get in, but if not them, I can still name a dozen other performances more compelling than Cooper’s. I did name them, in the previous post. Ralph Fiennes, Chadwick Boseman, Matthew McConaughey, Miles Teller, Tom Hardy…literally every single person I listed would deserve this nomination more than Bradley Cooper. I don’t want to suggest he isn’t good in the movie. He is. But lots of people are good, even very good, in their movies. They don’t all deserve Oscar nominations though. We’re talking about one of the five best performances of the year? I’m sorry, but no way.

For all the emphasis we players of this Oscar nomination guessing game put on the precursor awards to guide our selections, sometimes the tea leaves aren’t worth a damn. Despite several nominations from regional critics organizations, and a handful of wins, Marion Cotillard had not been cited by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). However to correct my last post, she was among the six nominees from the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), which makes her placement here slightly less unexpected…but not by much. It’s nice to see her back in the game since first winning in 2007 for La Vie En Rose, but few thought she’d make it. Her fellow nominees — Rosamund Pike, Reese Witherspoon (who also produced Pike’s film Gone Girl), Felicity Jones and Julianne Moore — were all expected to place, and most pundits were predicting Jennifer Aniston for the fifth spot, probably because she did have Golden Globe, SAG and BFCA nominations, and there wasn’t a large group of viable contenders to begin with. At least, not without looking to unusual suspects such as Jenny Slate (Obvious Child), Essie Davis (The Babadook) or Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Beyond the Lights). It’s rare for someone with all three of those nominations to miss with the Academy. Not unheard of (Leonardo DiCaprio for J. Edgar, Mila Kunis for Black Swan), but rare. I had a feeling Aniston wouldn’t make it, though I guessed — for lack of anything that made more sense to me, really — that Big Eyes‘ Amy Adams would take the open spot.

No surprises here. Despite his general awesomeness, I thought Duvall would be passed over, given the underwhelming reception for The Judge. I hoped that when the moment of truth came, voters would see through the film’s cliches, picking instead a role more interesting than the one that The Great Duvall was stuck with. But they went for it, making this category identical to the way it shook out with the Golden Globes, SAG and BFCA with Ethan Hawke, J.K. Simmons and Incredible Hulks Mark Ruffalo and Edward Norton filling out the list. (The BFCA added Inherent Vice‘s Josh Brolin to those five, and I would definitely rather have seen Duvall’s slot go to Brolin.) Duvall was good in The Judge because he’s always good, but that’s not good enough for an Oscar nomination.

Laura Dern was one of the bubble contenders for her role in Wild, and she managed to sneak in there, which stirs mixed feelings for me. On one hand, I’ve always been a champion for Dern, who I consider among our most underrated actresses. It’s really nice to see her recognized, 23 years after her only previous nomination (Best Actress in Rambling Rose). On the other hand, Dern’s time in Wild is brief, and while she does typically lovely work, she doesn’t get to do enough of it. I think I end up saying this about at least one acting nominee every year, but with rare exceptions a performance should have more presence and more meat than the one Dern has here in order to deserve an Oscar nomination. But here she is, and I can’t say I’m not happy to have her.

Also, nice to see someone else speaking up for Mr. Turner‘s shoulda-been-a-contender Dorothy Atkinson.

Apologies if I sound like a broken record, but American Sniper?!? Are you kidding me? For what?? Writer friends, please explain this to me, because I truly don’t understand. This movie just isn’t that good. I understand why it’s doing so well with audiences, but I can’t get my head around the award recognition, maybe even more so in this category than in Best Picture or Actor. I can honestly say that in a heartbeat I would have nominated Guardians of the Galaxy over this, and other genre fare like Snowpiercer, Edge of Tomorrow and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Under the Skin would have been a more deserving alternative too, but that movie was beyond the Academy’s sights. Wild was considered a good bet, and although Still Alice didn’t register in this category with other groups, it would have been worthy of a place here. Certainly more so than American Sniper. Best Screenplay. I can’t figure it.

Not that Sniper‘s nomination was a surprise. BAFTA called it out, and it got a WGA nod too. I just hoped the Academy would go for something more interesting. The true surprise in this line-up is the absence of Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel and picked up a number of wins along the way from regional critics, with the BFCA being her most high-profile victory. In fact, across the entire landscape of precursor awards, Gone Girl won far more prizes for Adapated Screenplay than any other film. It seemed like a sure thing, and Academy members have shown their love of David Fincher’s work over the last few years. Not this time. Gone Girl‘s sole nomination went to Rosamund Pike.

The good news in this category is that the last minute shift from Original Screenplay didn’t throw off voters from nominating Whiplash. And Paul Thomas Anderson broke in for Inherent Vice, so that made me happy. That’s a movie that should have been a bigger player this year.

Everything was not awesome for The LEGO Movie. Here was a category where everyone got it wrong. Not only was The LEGO Movie‘s nomination a sure thing, but pretty much everyone assumed it would win. I have a theory about why some animators may not have voted for it, and I can’t explain it without giving a major spoiler. But those who have seen the movie know that it takes an unexpected turn toward the end, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some voters felt that the move was a betrayal, for lack of a better word. Maybe I’m way off base, and there’s no way to know without surveying members of the animation branch, but I could see that being a reason for casting it aside, even if I think my explanation would be an incredibly stupid reason not to vote for a creative and inspired movie worthy of recognition. I also heard reports that many members of the animation branch come from a hand-drawn tradition and a European background, and were maybe put off by the pop culture saturation of The LEGO Movie while also wanting to champion traditionally drawn films. So that might have been at play too.

As it is, the films that were nominated are all quite good. (Actually, I haven’t seen The Boxtrolls, but I heard good things and should finally be able to catch it this week.) I mentioned Irish filmmaker Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea as a possibility, and he did make it, scoring his second nomination and once again taking people by surprise. People seemed equally caught off guard by the inclusion of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, though I’m not sure why. It comes from Studio Ghibli, the legendary Japanese company whose Spirited Away won this category in 2002, and which had Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises nominated in the years since. So Princess Kaguya was always a viable contender.

I missed by one in this category, but I’ll give myself a half point for even mentioning the possibility of a nomination for the Polish black and white film Ida, which also scored a nod for Best Foreign Language Film. Although…I described it as “a long longshot” so maybe a half point is too generous. I’ll take an eighth and be on my way.

Although Birdman seemed like a good bet here, I shouldn’t be surprised that it missed. I’ve said before that voters — even the editors themselves, at the nomination stage, apparently — often equate best editing and most editing. Birdman, with its numerous long takes, is definitely not among the year’s most edited movies. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t carefully and rather brilliantly put together however, with the editors crucially helping to seal the illusion of the movie appearing as almost one ongoing shot.

I won’t argue with the American Sniper nomination this time. It’s the sort of movie that does well in this category, and I did predict it, though I would much rather have seen the wonderful, more abstract editing of Wild nominated. That’s a big oversight.

Nothing to say here really, except finally, finally, finally, a Wes Anderson movie gets nominated for its set design. A long overdue honor for one of the most visually imaginative directors ever. No, I’m not overstating.

Also, I’m a little baffled by Interstellar showing up in this category. It picked up nominations from other groups along the way, so I knew it was a possibility and said so in the previous post. But the movie didn’t strike me as anything special in the design sense. Everything was well done, but there was really nothing out of the ordinary or so special as to seem worthy of singling out. Not when films like Snowpiercer, The Immigrant and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were left out. Birdman, too, was the rare contemporary film that seemed to have a shot in this category, as the design of the aged, cluttered Broadway theater added immeasurably to the overall effect of the movie.

Okay, so I guess there were a few things to say here.

Just as with Production Design, it must be celebrated that a Wes Anderson movie finally scored a nomination in this category. I was also pleased that two of my personal picks — Inherent Vice and Maleficent — made the cut, displacing my predictions The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. The latter two did feature some fine costume work, but sometimes period films with Best Picture pedigree get swept into categories like this one at the expense of choices that exhibit a little more thoughtfulness. It’s especially nice to see the costume branch spring for Inherent Vice, which has the period piece factor that these voters love, but a more contemporary period than often gets recognized from a voting block that gravitates toward more historical eras like the one in the also-nominated Mr. Turner. The costume work in Vice goes a long way toward defining the characters, and also did more to capture a specific time and place than the costumes of Imitation and Theory, which seemed more likely to get nominated, so kudos to those who voted for it.

I still think Guardians of the Galaxy deserved a spot here, but with the inclusion of Budapest and Vice, I can’t complain.

Between the crazy number of potential nominees and the problematic method the selection, this category is always a crapshoot, so I was pleased to see four of my five predictions bear out. The one I missed was “Grateful,” from the very good, underseen romantic drama Beyond the Lights, about a talented singer who has been manufactured into a pop star and finally starts to take control of her image and her life. It’s a nice song that ties into the movie’s story, but the same could be said for a lot of songs that seem to get brushed aside by the rules that govern the voting in this category. I’m not sure what makes this one so special as to deserve recognition. It’s not particularly distinctive or powerful. Like I said, it’s nice, but there were more inspired choices to be made here.

Starting with some of the songs from Muppets Most Wanted, all of which were incorporated directly into the movie. I mention that because voters in the music branch are presented with clips of all the eligible songs exactly as they appear in their respective movies, the idea apparently being that songs should be judged as much for context as for musicality. If this is the goal, maybe the category needs to be clearly redefined — and renamed — as “Best Use of an Original Song.” And if that’s the thinking, then voters would have done well to include “Sing Along” from Rudderless, an intimate song performed in the movie’s final scene by Billy Crudup as a father grieving for his deceased son. Yet there lies one of the problems with this method of voting. A song like “Sing Along” really needs to be seen (or heard) in light of everything that’s come before it in order to be understood and appreciated, and with 79 eligible songs, there’s no way voters can watch each full movie to understand every song’s place within that movie. So really, the voters should just receive a CD with each eligible song and judge the song on its own merits. Maybe that ends up benefitting something like “Grateful” even more than the current system. I don’t know. What I do know is that a) the system as it exists contradicts itself at every turn, and b) this fine but average song being nominated over this hilariously clever and loopy one just ain’t right.

Thankfully, the voters didn’t ignore every silly option, giving a nod to “Everything is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie. It would not have surprised me if voters had skipped over this popular tune, which is insanely catchy but admittedly simple and repetitive. (The song appears multiple times in the movie, leaving me to wonder what clip was presented to music branch voters. The portions performed by Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island cohorts Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaeffer only appeared during the end credits version, but they’re a big part of what makes the song so great.)

Although I predicted that The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies would be nominated, I acknowledged why it might not be, and it turns out I was right to see its vulnerability. It became the first of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films to miss a VFX nomination. And unless Jackson dives into The Silmarillion, it will also be the last. Also falling short was Transformers: Age of Extinction, which I also predicted but felt was not a sure thing. As it is, we wound up with a strong, respectable slate. Now let’s see if the voters do the right thing when it comes time to pick the winner.

I did dreadfully in Sound Mixing, with American Sniper being my only correct prediction. I was on the fence about whether to go with Interstellar, which did end up getting nominated, because there were widespread complaints about the sound mix being unbalanced, with the sound effects and music score occasionally overwhelming the dialogue so that people couldn’t understand what was being said. Personally, I thought it was a deliberate creative decision intended to evoke accurate circumstances in which noise probably would make it difficult for you to hear someone talking to you. It detracted from the movie for some, but had the opposite effect for me, drawing me into the experience even more. I was happy when Nolan discussed the sound shortly after its release to confirm that his choices with the sound mix were absolutely deliberate. Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure how his approach would affect the film’s Oscar chances in the sound categories. I settled on the idea that the branch would overlook the movie, but I’m happy to see that they appreciated what Nolan was going for.

I also thought Into the Woods would follow the many musical or music-centric films that earned Mixing nominations before. The film missed out, but the branch did give a slot to Whiplash, which was nice to see. It was also great to see Birdman show up in both categories. I mentioned in the last post that the film’s drum-driven score was deemed ineligible for that category, but it’s such a vital component of the movie, and I feel like the two sound nominations acknowledge that, as the score does the job of sound effects and music at the same time. And may I say, having recently seen Birdman again, how ridiculous it is that the music score was not allowed to contend for a nomination? No other score all year was more at one with its movie than Antonio Sánchez’s for Birdman. But the music branch clings pig-headedly to a number of asinine rules that continually undermine the very achievements they are tasked with celebrating. They badly need to get their shit together.

Back to the topic at hand, the most interesting thing about the nominations in these two categories is that they both ignored the summer blockbusters that usually find a home here. No Transformers (the first time in that franchise there hasn’t been a sound nomination), no Guardians of the Galaxy, no Godzilla, no Planet of the Apes, no Captain America, no Edge of Tomorrow or X-Men or Spider-Man. Instead the categories were populated by the more prestige films like Birdman, Unbroken, American Sniper and Whiplash. Yes, Interstellar and The Hobbit are in the blockbuster mold, but the Middle Earth movies have always been big players with the Academy, as have Christopher Nolan’s films.

I don’t usually cover this category because I never have the chance to see most of the movies, but it’s worth noting that the voters didn’t nominate Life Itself, the documentary about Roger Ebert. It seemed a likely contender, given the subject matter was man who loved movies and dedicated his life to celebrating them (and yes, often deriding them too). It’s also noteworthy because the film’s director, Steve James, has been here before. He’s had a few films that went into the nominations with big buzz only to be ignored, most notably Hoop Dreams, whose omission from this category in 2004 is widely held up as one of the most egregious oversights in Academy history.

Amusing sidenote: one of the five films that did get nominated this year is Finding Vivien Maier, and its nominated co-director is Charlie Siskel, nephew of Gene Siskel. Two ironic thumbs up.


Now then, sorry to rush out out of here without cuddling, but I’ve got another big post to write, and it involves me actually making some decisions about what I think will win. So we’ll get together again next weekend, and in the meantime you can amuse yourself with this classic Oscar moment of Jack Black and Will Ferrell.



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