by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
89TH ANNUAL ACADEMY AWARDS
The nominees for the 89th annual Academy Awards were announced last week, and for the most part there were few surprises. Damien Chazelle's musical Hollywood love letter La La Land tied the record for most noms with 14, joining both All About Eve and Titanic in that rarified club. Right behind it were Denis Villeneuve's thought-provoking science fiction marvel Arrival and Barry Jenkins' powerful exploration of race, sexuality and masculinity Moonlight both with eight nominations, while Hacksaw Ridge, Lion and Manchester by the Sea also proved to be solid contenders pulling in six nods apiece. Rounding out the Best Picture field were Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures and Fences, each film managing multiple nominations in a variety of categories as well.
As far as all of the nominees are concerned, with plenty of time to run through them all and ponder what's going on and why, I do have a few thoughts. Here are ten of them in somewhat random order:
1. La La Land, even with a little bit of drama brewing in regards to the noticeable lack of diversity inside the film's narrative construct, is going to win a ton of awards, including Best Picture. Seriously, the race is over at this point, and the only real question isn't if Chazelle's opus is going to emerge victorious, it's how many Oscars is it going to go home with? There's a real possibility it could tie Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Ben-Hur for the record with 11 wins, with the only real handicap La La Land is facing being the fact it's double nominated in one category (Best Original Song) and that Ryan Gosling has no chance whatsoever to pull an upset in Best Actor. But this could still happen, and it's possible when it's time to make predictions I might just go out on a limb and forecast the film to do just that.
2. Moonlight is likely this year's Brokeback Mountain. Ang Lee's groundbreaking gay-themed Western notably lost the top prize to Crash back in 2006, and people have been going nuts about this supposed upset ever since. It does feel a little like history might be repeating itself, Jenkins' somber, emotionally complex drama without question 2016's most critically lauded motion picture. But, other than likely wins in Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali the clear frontrunner), it's hard to imagine it emerging victorious in any of the other categories it's nominated in, especially considering the film is up against La La Land in every single one of them.
3. Amy Adams, as brilliant as she was in Arrival, isn't the shocking Best Actress snub. That honor belongs to Annette Bening in 20th Century Women. While both women being absent from the category is a surprise, the fact Bening has long been considered a frontrunner to, not just be nominated, but to win the Oscar this year, really makes her absence rather startling. Yet, make no mistake, both women were amazing in their respective films, and those angry about the fact they ended up as also-rans are allowed to be perturbed.
4. But not angry. If we're being honest, 2016 was a powerhouse year for actresses, and a number of other women could make a serious claim they should have been nominated. For that matter, Ruth Negga absolutely deserves to be amongst the five nominees for her graceful, powerfully subtle turn as Civil Rights legend Mildred Loving in Jeff Nichols' austere, masterfully eloquent Loving, and personally I find it marvelous the numerous members of the actors branch of the Academy put her name on the ballot. Heck, I can't even be upset that Meryl Streep earned her 20th nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins, and even if I felt the movie itself was a little slight, that doesn't make this not-even-remotely-overrated legend's performance any less superb.
5. #OscarSoWhite isn't a thing of the past, but this year's nominations are admittedly a good start. There are seven minority actors up for awards, Dev Petel (Best Supporting Actor), Octavia Spencer, Naomi Harris (both Best Supporting Actress) and Denzel Washington (Best Actor) all joining the aforementioned Ali and Negga as nominees. But that doesn't mean Hollywood is suddenly color blind, and even with films like Moonlight, Hidden Figures, Fences and Lion securing so many nominations in a variety of categories, unless the major studios decide to make more movies like them we could just as easily find ourselves back to square one as far as cinematic diversity is concerned just in time for the 90th Academy Awards.
6. SAG win for Best Ensemble notwithstanding, Hidden Figures isn't going to pull off the upset. While it is obvious this wonderful film has its fair share of fans amongst Academy voters, the last time a movie won Best Picture and absolutely nothing else was Mutiny on the Bounty way back in 1936. The reality here is that Hidden Figures has little to no chance to win in either of the two other categories it's been nominated in (Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay), making its chances to emerge victorious for the top prize pretty much nil.
7. Denzel Washington is likely to take home his third Oscar. A month ago, Casey Affleck seemed an absolute lock to win Best Actor for his devastating turn in Manchester by the Sea. Now, not only is he up against the beloved Washington, delivering one of the best performances of his entire career in a labor of love adaptation of August Wilson's landmark play directed by the actor himself, Affleck is also facing a public relations backlash that's as explosive as it is disgusting. More, it's also drawn parallels to what happened to Nate Parker and his film The Birth of a Nation, creating the sense of a noxious double-standard in Hollywood that has a number of voters wary of casting their ballots for him. Washington is genius in Fences, and his winning would hardly be an upset. Same time, if Affleck loses, it will have more to do with his actions off-screen than they do with anything he's done on it.
8. Yes, Pixar was unduly snubbed, Finding Dory a delightful sequel and one of 2016's best animated marvels. But looking at a Best Animated Feature lineup made up of Zooptopia, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life as a Zucchini and The Red Turtle is still all kinds of amazing, each film deserving of taking home the Oscar.
9. The only truly egregious snub I can think of is the absence of any of the magnificent songs from John Carney's Sing Street in the Best Original Song field, especially the infectious, toe-tapping pop wonder 'Drive It Like You Stole It.' As good as the La La Land songs might be, and as solid as the other nominees are, every song in Sing Street, all of them, every single one, is better than any of the tunes singled out in the final five. It's a stunning dropping of the ball as far as the Academy is concerned, especially considering that both of Carney's previous films, Once ('Falling Slowly' winning the Oscar) and Begin Again scored nominations in the category.
10. Finally, once again the rule allowing up to ten Best Picture nominees has had the unintended effect of decreasing the overall number of films receiving nominations in any of the other categories. This year, the nine films in the category scored a whopping 59 combined nods, a staggering figure that didn't leave a lot of room for other contenders to fill in here or there. While I do think it's a good thing to have a bigger nomination pool for Best Picture, I also admit that this has somehow convinced Academy members they must only vote for those fighting for inclusion in that category and not much else. I'm not sure I like that trend. Same time, I'm also not sure how you do anything to change things if you're going to continue to have an expanded field vying for the top prize.
Those are just some of the thoughts I have about this year's Academy Award race right now. By the time I make my predictions in just a couple of weeks, I'm absolutely certain I'll end up having a handful more.
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