Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Quick Thoughts on the 2017 Oscar Nominees

At this point in the season, there's still a lot I haven't seen, and a lot of reviews I haven't written. I also haven't been keeping an eye on the race as much as I usually do, which is nice in a way because this morning came as more of a surprise. I'll have more to say about all the nominees in the weeks ahead, but here are a couple of preliminary thoughts.

First, the Academy clearly got the message that we needed some more diversity, because I counted seven minority actors with nominations, and four of the nine Best Picture contenders have predominantly minority casts. "La La Land" dominated, of course, and is probably going to win almost everything on Oscar night, but "Moonlight" came away with eight nominations, and "Lion" got six. I'm also very excited to see "Arrival" doing so well, as the Academy rarely pays so much attention to science-fiction. None of my favorties got left out of the Best Picture race, though I'm surprised to see "Hacksaw Ridge" and "Hidden Figures" up there instead of "Silence" and "Sully," which were both almost totally shut out. I liked them all about the same, but the politicking is always interesting.

The Directors race usually points to who the frontrunners are, and in this case the usual suspects, Damien Chazelle for "La La Land," Barry Jenkis for "Moonlight," and Kenneth Lonergan for "Manchester by the Sea," are joined by Denis Villeneuve for "Arrival" and comeback kid Mel Gibson for "Hacksaw Ridge." That puts "Lion," "Fences," "Hell or High Water," and "Hidden Figures" firmly out of the running, which is also reflected in the number of nominations they got. My guess is that of the nine Best Picture nominees, "Hidden Figures" was the one that just squeaked through. If there had been a tenth nomination, I think the more uplifting "Florence Foster Jenkins" had a better shot than "Jackie." Or maybe Scorsese and Eastwood supporters could have rallied ennough to puch through "Sully" or "Silence."

The acting races are a mix of good and bad, as usual. Both of the actress races are very strong, so much so that I'm not unhappy that Amy Adams missed a slot for "Arrival." Even Meryle Streep, who usually comes off as a legacy pick, truly deserves to be up there this year. I think Joel Edgerton should have replaced Andrew Garfield or Viggo Mortensen in Actor, but it's not a bad race at all. Supporting Actor is interesting, in that the Academy chose to give Michael Shannon a nod over Aaron Johnson, who won the Golden Globe. Neither of them are up for the corresponding SAG Award either, which is usually one of the biggest predictors of these nominations. If I were to predict the winners now, I'd go for Casey Affleck, Isabelle Huppert, Mahershala Ali, and Viola Davis. Maybe Emma Stone instead of Huppert.

Other surprises include a Screenplay nod for Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos for his brutal comedy "The Lobster," "The Red Turtle" and "My Life as a Zucchini" beating back a flood of American box office hits in Animated Film, "Kubo and the Two Strings" getting a rare Best Visual Effects nod for an animated feature, and appearances by "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" (Sound Mixing), "Trolls" (Song), "Passengers" (Production Design and Score) and "Suicide Squad" (Makeup and Hairstyling). Not too many major complaints here, but surely they could have found a Best Documentary nominee less mawkish than "Life, Animated"? And Best Foreign Language film is a mess as usual, missing several of the major contenders, including "Elle." And how is the only nomination for "Hail, Caesar!" in Production Design?

I don't think it's going to be a particularly exciting year as far as the races go, but I look forward to a very entertaining telecast. "La La Land" is a bona fide box office hit, which means the award ceremony will attract more viewers and give the showrunners a lot of material to work with. And everybody is going to be waiting to see if Meryl Streep or someone else gets in a few more digs at Donald Trump.

Oh, and better luck next time "Deadpool."


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