Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Oscar Nominations 2017

Today, the nominations for the 2017 Oscars were announced, so for me, the race to see as many of them as I can has officially begun. For now, here’s a little bit of commentary on what the Academy got right, what it got wrong and what the major surprises were.

The major categories
I would have wished for a nod to Amy Adams for Arrival. She gave that movie the emotional anchor-point that is so crucial for intellectual science fiction. However, instead, Meryl Streep collected her twentieth nomination for “Florence Foster Jenkins”. Not as outrageous as nominating her for “Into the Woods”, but still, at this point, her nominations have almost become a punchline to a joke. The nominations for Ruth Negga and Isabelle Huppert reassure me that the Academy hasn’t gotten completely complacent in searching for strong female performances, so that’s good.

Best Actor is about the only category in which I would be confident to bet against “La La Land” (more on that later). Viggo Mortensen netting his second nomination for “Captain Fantastic” makes me extremely happy, but the real star in this category is Casey Affleck. His performance in “Manchester by the Sea” is so real, it hurts. Also great to see Andrew Garfield on the rebound from his foray into Blockbuster cinema. I can’t wait to watch “Hacksaw Ridge” soon.

In the supporting categories, we can definitely see that the Academy has finally taken the calls for diversity to heart. There won’t be a #Oscarssowhite campaign this year. Michelle Williams and Lucas Hedges from “Manchester by the Sea” mean that every major performance in that film got a nomination, and deservedly so. Also, Michael Shannon snuck his way in there for “Nocturnal Animals” and despite my extreme distaste for that film (There’s a WhatsApp discussion you won’t be seeing, I got shouted down hard for that opinion and had little to offer in terms of defence) I think he deserves it, since he’s probably the best part of that film. I would also have accepted Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I haven’t had the chance to see any of the other performances yet, but from what I’ve heard, they are all deserving nominees.

Best Picture is definitely a good list, although I’m somewhat surprised to see “Hidden Figures” and “Hell or High Water” pop up. I’ve heard good things about both movies, but rarely in the sense of actual Oscar buzz, but here we are. It’s great to see “Arrival” take its spot, especially since it also boasts Best Director and Best Film Editing nominations, strong indicators on its actual chances. Not that it won’t get steam-rolled by “La La Land”, but it’s nice to see a sci-fi film in such strong consideration.

“La La Land”, all night long
“La La Land” is the biggest story, la la landing 14 nominations, tying with the record for the highest number of nominations, previously shared by “Titanic” and “All About Eve”. It will not be able to convert all of these into wins though, since it is nominated twice in the Best Song category. I’m a bit conflicted about this. On the one hand, I unabashedly love this movie. However, I fear it’s going to take away some deserved wins, because it has the unfair advantage of being about Hollywood. Now, I don’t completely buy into the “The Oscars are just Hollywood patting itself on the shoulder” narrative, but there is always an element of that present. It’s not enough to cheat yourself into a win, as recently evidenced in the relative lack of acclaim for “Trumbo”. You still have to make a good movie to sweep the Academy Awards. However, it does give you an undeniable edge. But, once again, I loved “La La Land”, so I won’t be too mad.

If there’s any aspect of the nominations that does get me mad, it’s the musical categories. 2016 was an extremely strong year for music in film and the Academy nominates “Passengers” for Best Score and the paint-by-numbers pop song “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” for Best Song? Mark Mancina, Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda delivered the best Soundtrack of any Disney film since “The Lion King”, John Debney did amazing things with the music for “The Jungle Book” (although I don’t know what the rules for Best “original” score state specifically in that case) and “Swiss Army Man” connected the film with its soundtrack in such a creative way, I thought that alone would warrant a nomination. And come on, people, every single song in “Sing Street” is more deserving than Justin Timberlake’s contribution to Dreamworks “Trolls”. And it’s not even as if “Sing Street” was such an underground hit or anything, John Carney’s last two movies were both nominated in the same category, with one win for “Once”, so the Academy was clearly watching.

Apart from that, I’m mostly happy with these nominations, although they do feel kind of safe in a few places. I would have liked it if “Deadpool” or “Sausage Party” could have snuck in somewhere. I mean, can you imagine Ryan Reynolds coming down the red carpet in his Deadpool outfit? Also, surprisingly little love for a certain galaxy, far far away…. “Rogue One” being tied for nominations with “Passengers” baffles me, especially since the latter bagged a nomination for Best Production Design. I thought the way “Rogue One” integrated its design with the original Star Wars, even going so far as to use archive footage from that movie, would have secured that spot. I mean, come on, they recreated the space-70s, that must be worth something.

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