Top 7 Takeaways from the Oscar Nominations

So the 89th Academy Award nominations were released at 8:18 EST this morning, and the news has been very positive for a number of movies. La La Land, the current Best Picture frontrunner, tied for the most Oscar nominations ever with Titanic and All About Eve at 14 nominations. La La Land was followed closely by, well not much, as the next films with multiple award nominations were Arrival and Moonlight, both of which got eight nominations, almost half of the number of La La Land. Then Hacksaw RidgeLion, and Manchester by the Sea, all of which got six nominations, Fences and Hell or High Water with four, then Hidden Figures and Jackie both with three. For the complete list of nominees look here. By the way, La La Land already has over $170 million at the box office, so I’m expecting that number to go north of $200 million after this weekend with news like this. So that being said, here are some major snubs or surprises that happened, as well as what these nominations mean for potential winners going forward.

1) Amy Adams May Be the Next Leonardo DiCaprio

Amy Adams has spent the past fifteen years building one of the most impressive resumes of any actor of her generation including Catch Me If You CanJunebugEnchantedDoubtThe FighterAmerican Hustle, and now Arrival. While that impressive resume has often resulted in her getting awards consideration, especially from the Academy who has nominated her for five Oscars, that isn’t always a guaranteed as we saw today. Amy Adams got a Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and BAFTA nod, but came up short on Oscar morning with her spot taken by Ruth Negga in Loving, the only nominee for her film. The Academy seemed to like Arrival plenty considering it got eight nominations, so the snub for Adams’ subdued performance is surprising especially considering the story is centered entirely on her character. Amy Adams now has as many Oscar nominations as Leonardo DiCaprio did before winning, including his Best Picture nomination for producing The Wolf of Wall Street, and winning for The Revenant on his fifth acting nomination. Adams could very well have won the Oscar in a very competitive field but now those hopes are dashed for this year. However, her new television show Sharp Objects, based on the Gillian Flynn novel, is premiering on HBO this year so maybe an Emmy and a third Golden Globe will have to come first.

2) Deadpool‘s Precursor Success Was a Flash In the Pan

Sadly Deadpool which seemed like the little awards contender that could, receiving a Writer Guild nomination, two Golden Globe nominations, and a Producers Guild nomination, came up short with no Oscar nods this morning. That’s especially surprising with the PGA nod, which means Deadpool is the first movie to ever receive such a nomination and NOT get an Oscar nomination. Ryan Reynolds has spent the past few months campaigning for the film with awards groups, and although he had some success it failed to translate even into a Makeup and Hairstyling nomination where Deadpool arguably had the best chance. Instead lesser comic book fare like Suicide Squad did, which is pretty surprising. I guess that Deadpool will have to be content with the $783 million, the legacy of R-rated comic book films, and the ensuing franchise that Reynolds will surely create to make up for this. And an honorable mention on my Top 10 of 2016 list. Oh well.

3) The Academy Loves Mel, But Not Jackie or Nocturnal Animals

One of the biggest success stories of this awards season has been Mel Gibson’s comeback with his war film Hacksaw Ridge, which got great reviews, made over $150 million at the box office, and was nominated in six categories at the Oscars: Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Actor for Andrew Garfield, and even Best Director for Gibson himself. This somewhat surprised me because I thought that even if the Golden Globes were willing to forgive Mel’s past, that the Directors Branch of the Academy wouldn’t. I was proven wrong however, with Mel trouncing past Directors Guild nominee Garth Davis, deserving veteran Martin Scorsese, and my left-field predicted nominee David Mackenzie. This is great news for Mel, although as he has said before this could only have happened this year.

Meanwhile, Pablo Larraín’s Jackie, an acclaimed transformation of the prestige biopic genre, appears to have peaked in love after its September release at Venice, and for a time could have received the second-most nominations besides La La Land. Instead, it lost steam and finally ended up with three nominations: Best Actress for Natalie Portman, Best Score, and Best Costume Design. No small feat but not what it could have done a few months ago. Another important series of snubs came for Nocturnal Animals, which had just won Best Supporting Actor at the Globes, and got nine nominations from the British Academy. However, Tom Ford’s latest ended up with only one nomination, for Best Supporting Actor for Michael Shannon, not Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This makes ATJ the first Globe winner in the category to not get an Oscar nomination since Richard Benjamin in 1976, who won for The Sunshine Boys, only to be snubbed and then have his costar George Burns win the Oscar. This means that Shannon could now be the main challenger to Mahershala Ali here, especially considering that Hugh Grant wasn’t nominated.

4) It Looks Like Moonlight Is the Main Challenger to La La Land

It was a great day for Moonlight, who received eight nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. I am over the moon about this, no pun intended, considering when I first saw the film that I thought that Moonlight wouldn’t make it this far in the awards season to be considered for its technical perfection. Luckily, the Academy and I thought alike and it received nominations in just about every category where it is worthy. Considering that Moonlight tied with Arrival for the second most nominations behind La La Land, and the fact that Moonlight won Best Motion Picture – Drama at the Globes, it is my opinion that it is now the leading contender to upset La La Land for Best Picture. More on that film in a second. Moonlight has the benefit of being an extremely worthy picture, the fact that it will likely win the Screen Actors Guild Ensemble Award, usually a good predictor for the Best Picture Oscar, and the fact that there might be some looking for an alternative to the juggernaut that is La La Land. Politics could also play here if some Academy members are looking for a worthy film to award a year after OscarsSoWhite part two. In any case Moonlight could certainly pull an upset, more on that later, and speaking of OscarsSoWhite…

5) This Was a Great Step Forward For the Academy, But It’s Far From Over

After two years of OscarsSoWhite, the Academy was lucky to be given an exceptional year for filmmaking, especially for films by and concerning African-American subjects. MoonlightFences, and Hidden Figures, three very significant and worthy films centering on African-American characters, received a combined fifteen nominations with seven of the twenty Acting nominees being people of color, including Dev Patel in Best Supporting Actor. Not only that, but four films in Best Documentary Feature, 13THO. J.: Made in America, I Am Not Your Negro, and Life, Animated all center on African-American subject matter or were directed by African-Americans. Not only this, but Bradford Young, the cinematographer for Arrival, became the first African-American nominated in Best Cinematography, while Joi McMillon, one of the editors for Moonlight, became the first African-American woman nominated for Best Film Editing. Also, August Wilson was posthumously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film Fences, based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play, and Barry Jenkins was nominated for both Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay alongside Tarell Alvin McCraney. Jenkins is also the fourth African-American man nominated for Best Director, and if he wins he would be the first African-American winner in the category.

That being said, the Academy is only a reflection of the greater Hollywood community, so there is still plenty of room in the future for not only African-American filmmakers, but Hispanic, Asian American, and Arab American filmmakers, as well as many others, to be represented. This is far from the end for lacking racial diversity at the Oscars, but it’s certainly a much-needed and very appropriate step in the right direction.

6) La La Land Is Still the Awards Juggernaut That We Think It Is

After a record-setting seven Golden Globe wins on January 8th, La La Land continues to assert itself as a leading Oscar contender, having already won eight Critics Choice Awards and now tying the record for most Oscar nominations ever with Titanic, which went on to win eleven Oscars, and All About Eve, which went on to win six. Both of those films won Best Picture and Best Director, the difference being that Titanic primarily won awards below the line, losing Actress, Supporting Actress, and Makeup and Hairstyling. All About Eve on the other hand won Picture, Director, Supporting Actor, Screenplay, Sound, and Costumes. The reason that I mention these two films is that at this point La La Land could actually end up with either number of awards, winning all but a couple awards here and there while losing some like Sound Editing to Hacksaw Ridge, accomplishing the biggest sweep since The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, or winning in between six and eight categories as the Academy spreads the wealth. This all depends on how La La Land can continue with its current momentum, which will likely translate to major box office returns between now and February 26th, when the Oscars are presented.

However, the frontrunner on Oscar morning isn’t always the big winner on Oscar Night. Last year the film with all of the momentum on nomination morning was The Revenant, which was nominated for twelve Oscars, and ended up winning three after losing a number of technical awards to Mad Max: Fury Road. In 2014, American Hustle tied with Gravity for the most nominations that day with ten and ended up going home empty-handed a month later. The year before that, Lincoln and Life of Phad twelve and eleven nods respectively, while Best Picture went to Argo, with seven nominations. The point of this is that the current way that the Oscars work, using preferential ballots for Best Picture and adopting a more diverse voting-body and voting method since the 2009 ceremony where Slumdog Millionaire won, has lead to the Academy awarding a wider variety of films. Since the changes the most awards a film has received has been Gravity, which won seven out of ten nominations in 2014. So there’s plenty of room for La La Land to lose between now and then, especially with a number of precursors and guild awards being handed out in the next month. Keep your eyes out for a big reversal in the coming weeks.

7) The Academy Is Moving In Some Interesting Directons: Old and New

In addition to a record-tying number of people of color actors in this year’s Oscar field, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs’ efforts to push the Academy in a younger and more diverse direction appears to be working. Not only were a more diverse field of films nominated in the ways mentioned above, but a wider variety of films were nominated in terms of genre and style. Arrival finally got Denis Villeneuve an Oscar nomination, a big win for heavy sci-fi films, while a less heavy but likely more seen Passengers also got two nominations. Suicide Squad also got a nomination, which is good in a way because it shows that the Academy is willing to award the better parts of even bad movies if they see them as worthy. Meanwhile a variety of popular films like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find ThemMoanaZootopiaRogue One, and The Jungle Book, all did rather well on top of being major financial and critical successes. Another interesting takeaway is that time doesn’t seem to be an aid nor a hindrance as Silence and 20th Century Women, despite both being very worthy, weren’t able to bank off of Christmas releases and both only received one nomination. Meanwhile 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which premiered over a year ago still managed to find its way into Sound Mixing.

Martin Scorsese’s Silence, despite being lauded by critics, not only bombed at the box office, but also only received a nomination for Best Cinematography, showing that even the name of one of Hollywood’s greatest-ever talents isn’t enough to carry a film. That being said, I’m sure that the Weinstein brothers are breathing a sigh of relief as the success of Lion in securing six nominations comes on top of the film’s growing commercial success. The Academy was also willing to look beyond controversial subjects and nominate Isabelle Huppert’s work in Elle for Best Actress. While there’s plenty of room to appreciate the nominees, it again proved that there is only one certain way to get an Oscar nomination: be Meryl Streep. Her Golden Globe speech certainly helped, but I’m starting to think that Jared Leto was onto something when he said it’s basically California state law at this point.

Potential Results

As of right now I see a couple of potential scenarios that could play out on Oscar night, all of which I think would be deserving. The first is the likely scenario right now, which is a La La Land sweep, with that film winning something akin to its Critics Choice night where it won eight awards and then some. A La La Land sweep would involve the film winning anywhere between seven and a record-tying eleven awards. It could even do more to be honest, considering Hollywood’s willingness to reward movies about show business in the past few years. A second possible scenario, and one that I could see resulting after the Globes and with some fatigue building for La La Land, is one similar to the 86th Academy Awards in 2014. In this case La La Land is akin to Gravity, winning Best Director, and a number of below-the-line awards, including: Score, Song, Sound Mixing, Production Design, Cinematography, and Film Editing. In this case Moonlight is winning Best Picture, in addition to Best Supporting Actor and Adapted Screenplay, akin to 12 Years a Slave, which also won a sole Best Motion Picture – Drama Globe in its year. In that case Manchester by the Sea wins Actor and Best Original Screenplay while other films win like Jackie in Costume Design and Hacksaw Ridge in Sound Editing. A third scenario would be Manchester by the Sea mounting a surprise comeback similar to last year when The Big Short won the Producers Guild Award and become a possible spoiler to Spotlight and The Revenant, potentially winning Picture, Actor, Original Screenplay, and even a surprise Supporting win for Hedges or Williams, or just those original three. Spotlight proved that the Academy is willing to go small if they feel a film is worthy. But in all likelihood it’s going to be a good night for La La Land.

Make sure to check out my Oscar Predictions here to see how they compare to the real thing!

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