What if there was nothing to really complain about? Such was the easy pleasure of awards pundits when the 2017 Oscar nominations were announced Tuesday morning.
A year after the second straight lineup of #OscarsSoWhite nominations galvanized the movie industry, the Academy produced a slate of nominees that didn’t just seem a correction to the previous year’s slights, but an actual rousing celebration of what ended up being a stellar year of film that, yes, immediately and deeply remedied the previous years’ asinine snubs.
Joining La La Land as the year’s dominant films are Manchester By the Sea, a film about one man’s guilt and attempts at resilience after the loss of his brother, and Moonlight, a small indie that struck a chord with voters because of its sweeping depiction of race, masculinity, and sexual identity.
One year after #OscarsSoWhite, it’s wonderful to be praising Moonlight, as it is Fences and Hidden Figures, two surprise nominees in the Best Picture category but two films that, in different ways, pay powerful homage to black history in America, and respectively feature some of the finest acting of the year—an accomplishment, as we’ve learned in the last two years, that is no guarantee of awards attention.
Aside from those surprise Best Picture nominations, it’s a relatively boring roster of nominees, in that they reflect what’s long been considered “locks” as far as mentions go.
In fact, the worst thing to say about the year’s nominations is that they are too boring, or perhaps a tad too overzealous in its infatuation with the musical drama La La Land, which tied the record for the most nominations in awards history with 14.
(Titanic and All About Eve round out that selective group, which might be rather embarrassing when you rewatch La La Land a few years from now.)
Nonetheless, Oscar nominations morning would be nothing if not a soapbox on which film fans can stand on and whine. And in that spirit, though this year’s nominations are largely anticipated and actually quite good, here are our small grievances: the list of snubs and surprises.
SURPRISE: Hidden Figures
The Taraji P. Henson-led feel-good drama about female African American NASA mathematicians played to a rousing reception at every single screening. Yet the film’s validation of ignored accomplishments and celebration of the work of black women is precisely the kind of story we were bracing to see ignored Oscar nominations morning. What a treat to be talking about the rousing, wonderfully entertaining film as a surprise and not a snub.
Similarly, it’s a surprise to see Fences make it into the Best Picture race. Denzel Washington’s adaptation of August Wilson’s play is certainly powerful and, if there’s any justice, should garner Viola Davis a trophy a month from now. But its talky nature that so intensely centers on race, the very thing that gives it life, is also the thing that we imagined the Academy being weary of, making its eventual inclusion in Best Picture a welcome surprise.
SNUB: 20th Century Women
It’s hard not to view all entertainment through the lens of the recent women’s march and how industry standards betray women as much as it does (and doesn’t) tell their stories. So while 20th Century Women, Mike Mills’s love letter to his mother and the women that played a specific role in a politicized culture in the last 40 years, was a word of mouth hit, it’s a bummer that Annette Bening’s captivating lead performance and Greta Gerwig’s supporting turn were ignored alongside Best Picture—even if it’s a joy to see Mills among the screenplay nominees.
SURPRISE: Mel Gibson
What is there to say about the Academy’s embrace of Hacksaw Ridge? Voters we have talked to recently called the film one of the best war movies they’ve seen, making its inclusion in Best Picture rather predictable. But that Gibson is among the select group of men (always men) up for Best Director is an astonishing gesture of forgiveness of someone whose tirades against people of color, gay people, women, and Jews once made him a pariah of the industry. Several captivating sequences of a religious soldier in battle later, it seems, all is forgiven—something sure to piss off (deservedly) many members of the film community.
SURPRISE: Ruth Negga, Loving
There are few performances nominated for Oscars this year that received as much passionate support from critics and pundits as Ruth Negga’s assured, but quiet turn as Mildred Loving, one half of the couple that took the fight for interracial marriage to the Supreme Court. It’s a resonant story, to be sure, but one told with such muted dignity that, in a Best Actress category that may be the most competitive in over a decade and brimming with showy work, it’s a welcome shock that Negga’s breakout, confident (though small) performance made it through the cracks.
Because no one really knew what to make of this year’s contenders, not to mention some very valid hand-wringing over exactly how white and un-“woke” the slate would be, many pundits predicted that the raunchy superhero film Deadpool might crack into the Best Picture race. It played with the guilds, professionals who make up a large swath of the Academy voting body, and Ryan Reynolds campaigned the hell out of the subversive comic book film. But in the end the film, one of the most popular of the year, was shut out completely.
SNUB: Martin Scorsese and Silence
The Best Director race was always going to be an interesting one this year, with pundits wondering whether the Academy was going to follow the Directors’ Guild in minting new star filmmakers (like Lion’s Garth Davis) or acknowledge what is largely considered the opus of one of Hollywood’s most hallowed filmmakers. In the end, Silence, which narrowly managed to screen for awards attention, couldn’t crack through a slate of contenders that had pretty much assured itself months before anyone had seen the film.
SNUB: Amy Adams, Arrival
This snub entry could have been any of at least a half-dozen women who were vying for the last Best Actress slot in a year that was unusually—and blessedly—ripe with Best Actress contenders. Because Amy Adams is such a stalwart nominee at this point in her young career, with five nominations under her belt, and Arrival has played so well, even gathering a Best Picture nomination, many predicted that her and the film’s popularity would be a deciding factor in voting. But Meryl Streep’s galvanizing Golden Globes speech and passionate support for Ruth Negga’s turn in Loving seemed to have drowned out her buzz.
SNUB: Finding Dory
Thirteen years after the original Finding Nemo film became a cultural sensation, its heartfelt secret moved audiences to the tune of becoming one of the most successful films ever. But because it was such a strong year for animated films, the box office juggernaut and one-time sure-thing nominee found itself completely out of the Oscar race, which, if there’s any justice, Zootopia (which should’ve been a Best Picture nominee) will win.
SNUB: The Old White Guys
There’s an Academy that was less “woke,” that didn’t make concerted strides to address its shortcomings in opportunity and racial inclusion, that wouldn’t have just rubber-stamped nominations for reliable contenders like Tom Hanks (Sully) and Michael Keaton (The Founder), but their ho-hum films as well. Sure, the Best Actor category, save for Denzel Washington, isn’t exactly a beacon of diversity. But the Academy does seem to be sending a discerning message.
SNUB: Hugh Grant
Who doesn’t love Hugh Grant? That was basically the sentiment behind the notion that the movie star would score his first-ever Oscar nomination for his slight, but stirring work in Florence Foster Jenkins—especially thanks to the film’s strategic summer release and his co-star Meryl Streep’s cathartic political speech weeks ago. Yet it’s the kind of turn that, though widely appreciated, was unlikely to receive the kind of passionate support needed for an Academy Award nomination, which is why Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) and Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) show up here instead.
SURPRISE: Lucas Hedges, Manchester By the Sea
Hardly anyone will say that the 20-year-old star of Manchester By the Sea doesn’t deserve an Oscar nod, but because the Academy is historically hostile to young actors—a laughable pattern given its pervy history awarding young women—most assumed Hedges’ breakout turn would go ignored.
SNUB: Tom Ford
The fashion icon’s second feature, Nocturnal Animals, is the rare film this year to actually get people talking, a conversation-starter that eventually scored huge recognition by all of the precursor awards groups. Though we wouldn’t make a passionate case that he deserved it, given that the math added up, it’s a bit of a surprise he was left out of the screenplay lineup, at the very least.
SNUB: Taraji P. Henson, Hidden Figures
Everyone give themselves a pat on the back that #OscarsSoWhite didn’t happen for a third year. But we all know that if this movie had been about white ladies starring Sandra Bullock, Bullock would’ve won the Oscar. Yet Henson wasn’t even nominated, nor was she expected to be. Race and opportunity is still a thing, y’all.
An arthouse film about the most enduringly fascinating former first lady, featuring a star turn from Natalie Portman and some of the most exciting work in the craft categories not just this year, but ever. On paper, Jackie was a sure-thing Oscar contender. So why didn’t it make it into Best Picture? The Oscars are confusing.