Monday, February 6, 2017

Oscar Nominations 2017: "Diversity," Milestones, and Upsets

Now that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has announced its nominations for the best work in film from 2016, there are surprises as well as upsets.

First things first: the number of nominations for the respected films. La La Land now ties with All About Eve (1950) and Titanic (1997) as the most-nominated film in the history of the Academy, with a total of 14 nominations, including Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay (both Damien Chazelle), and two of its songs. Not bad for an original musical in the spirit of Fred & Ginger and MGM's Golden Age. The film's distribution company--the Lionsgate-owned Summit Entertainment (known for blockbuster films like the Divergent franchise)--received a total of 22 nominations, including those for two of its other films, the war epic Hacksaw Ridge (six nominations) and the disaster story Deepwater Horizon (two nominations).

Other key films that were recognized include the intelligent and unconventional sci-fi pic Arrival (eight nominations), Barry Jenkins' coming-of-age drama Moonlight (also eight), true story Lion (six), Kenneth Lonergan's family drama Manchester By the Sea (six), August Wilson's cautionary tale Fences (six), chase thriller Hell or High Water (four), and NASA true story Hidden Figures (three). Interestingly, many of these films earned pairs of nominees in the acting categories, specifically Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone (La La Land), Denzel Washington & Viola Davis (Fences), Mahershala Ali & Naomie Harris (Moonlight), and Dev Patel & Nicole Kidman (Lion).

(l-r) Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Dev Patel, Naomie Harris, and Octavia Spencer 
Perhaps the biggest news of all is that the Academy broke its two year streak from the controversial #OscarsSoWhite campaign by including and recognizing actors and filmmakers of color. Furthermore, this is the first year in the event's history that each acting category has had at least one nominee that is African-American or of color. Along with the aforementioned names, others include Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Ruth Negra (Loving).

My piece on last year's nominees touched on this issue of a lack of diversity in detail (read here). And while this year is an improvement in many ways, it does also feel kind of limited. Nominee Octavia Spencer (who won in 2012 for her supporting performance in The Help) has recently gone on record saying that, while she is grateful for her nomination and for those of others this year, "diversity" is not limited to "black and white." And while other nominees this year hail from England/Britain (Andrew Garfield, Dev Patel, Naomie Harris), Ethiopia (Ruth Negga), France (Isabelle Huppert), Israel (Natalie Portman), and Australia (Nicole Kidman), there seems to be a lack of other nationalities, such as Latinos, Asians, and other minorities (read here). (After all, Taiwanese director Ang Lee and Mexican directors Alfonso Cauron and Alejandro G. Inarritu won Best Director the last four years, for Life of Pi, GravityBirdman and The Revenant, respectfully.) 

(l-r) Alfonso Cauron, Alejandro G. Inarritu, and Ang Lee
Biggest upsets
Two years ago, the biggest mistake the Academy made was not nominating The Lego Movie (a clever and fun adaptation of the popular Dutch brand of toys) for Best Animated Feature. (Its catchy Lonely Island-penned song, "Everything Is Awesome," was, on the other hand, recognized, and brought down the house at the ceremony that year.) Last year, drama Spotlight (which brilliantly and graphically chronicled the Boston Globe's investigation of sex scandals inside the Boston Catholic Church in the early 2000s) beat out hopefuls (and more deserved award-winners) The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road. Sylvester Stallone's loss of the Best Supporting Actor award (for his incredible return as Rocky Balboa in Creed) to Mark Rylance (a brilliant performance in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies, nonetheless) was another upset. It also would have been nice to see young Jacob Trembley get a nomination for his great work with Brie Larson (last year's Best Actress) in Room (arguably one of the best films of the decade).

Amy Adams in Arrival
Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool
Chris Evans in Captain America: Civil War
While many were upset that the hard-R Marvel comic (and surprise smash) Deadpool wasn't nominated for Best Picture nor for Best Actor (Ryan Reynolds), as the film has picked up a ton of recognition at recent awards shows, the biggest upset, in my opinion, was Amy Adams not getting a best actress nomination for Arrival, arguably her best role to date. And speaking of Marvel comics, Captain America: Civil War--another great film in the studio's ever-growing canon--wasn't even recognized. 

Despite all of this, the Oscars still had room for a few other notable surprises.

Meryl Streep received her fiftieth nomination (for her lead performance in Florence Foster Jenkins), making her the most nominated actor/actress above Jack Nicholson and Katherine Hepburn.

Mel Gibson made something of a comeback this year with Hacksaw Ridge and nabbed his first nomination for Best Director in over 20 years (his last being 1995's Braveheart, which he won).

Kubo and the Two Strings is the first animated feature to get a nomination for visual effects since 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

With three nominations including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) and Best Adapted Screenplay, Hidden Figures marks the fourth consecutive year that the Academy has recognized a NASA-themed or -related film (following Gravity, 2013; Interstellar, 2014; and The Martian, 2015). Talk about reaching for the stars, to the moon and back, or in La La Land's case, "another day of sun". 

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