The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite made the social media rounds once more this year after the Oscar nominations were announced bright and early this morning – and not because "The Revenant," this year’s nomination leader with 12, takes place in a snow-covered forest.
Unfortunately, for the second straight year, the Academy selected an almost entirely white crop of nominees in its high-profile categories. No people of color in any male acting field. No people of color in any female acting field. No Best Picture candidates fronted by people of color. The only non-white person in any of the major categories is Alejandro G. Inarritu, the Mexican director of "The Revenant." And yes, the NWA biopic "Straight Outta Compton" got a Best Original Screenplay nod … but its screenwriters are white. Otherwise, once more, a significant portion of the movie-consuming population is looking at another year of the supposedly finest performers and best stories with no one representing them, another year of their stories and characters ignored.
It’s not like there's nothing to choose from either. I and many others expected Idris Elba’s devilishly charismatic turn in "Beasts of No Nation" to take one of the Best Supporting Actor nominations, not only because he’s fantastic and deserving but also, cynically, because I couldn’t imagine the Academy not being so unaware to let themselves get into this situation yet again. I was clearly wrong. Meanwhile, Michael B. Jordan in "Creed," Benicio del Toro in "Sicario," Jason Mitchell in "Straight Outta Compton" and many, many others were all just as deserving – and, as you may have noticed reading that list, not in small movies that could be easily missed. And all, after Thursday’s ceremony, were left just as wanting.
At least there was some improvement from last year in the writing categories with several very deserving female screenwriters – Emma Donaghue of "Room," for instance – getting credit. But overall, one year later after getting roundly called out, the Academy once again dressed up its biggest stage only to demonstrate its unfortunately limited view of the world.
Not that any of this is on purpose or some racist, nefarious scheme; after all, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs is black, and the actually awards will be hosted by none other than Chris Rock – who I imagine had a fun afternoon of joke-writing after the chosen alabaster few were announced. But it is something that needs to be fixed, whether that means more moves toward making the notorious old white boys club that is the Academy more diverse or shaking up the overall Awards season coverage and mindset that doesn’t invite deserving candidates like "Chi-raq," "Tangerine" or "Creed" director Ryan Coogler to the table (quite literally). I look forward to the day when we can talk about the Oscars snubbing movies and performances, rather than entire swaths of people and experiences.
And speaking of snubs, there certainly were some notable ones Thursday morning. Johnny Depp earned a lot of buzz for supposedly acting again in "Black Mass." The Academy apparently disagreed, leaving him out for Matt Damon in "The Martian." Aaron Sorkin was seen as another early lock for his predictably sharp and snappy "Steve Jobs" script, but as with everything about that second Jobs biopic (save for the actual film itself) the supposed excitement didn’t add up to much.
"Carol" was a critics darling and seen as a potential early front-runner for Best Picture, but the Academy left it out of the running for the big prize – not to mention Todd Haynes for Best Director. Speaking of getting left out of director, many expected this to be the year for Ridley Scott to win his Martin Scorsese’s "The Departed" Legacy Oscar – no, he didn’t win for "Gladiator" – but while "The Martian" wrangled seven nominations, Best Director was not one of them.
"Room" director Lenny Abrahamson likely took Scott’s spot, a surprise for even the drama’s biggest supporters (*raises hand*). While early buzz pegged the psychological parenting drama as a frontrunner, the whispers as nomination day approached noted some Academy members were avoiding "Room," now wanting to deal with the dark, emotionally exhausting material of a kidnapped woman and her child of rape. After Thursday morning, however, that seems to be all they were: whispers. "Room" not only scored a directing nod – as well as a heavily predicted Actress nod for the excellent Brie Larson – but it also netted nominations for Screenplay and Best Picture.
Does that give it enough to push it back into frontrunner status? Eh, unlikely – though the race is certainly wide open, perhaps the most unpredictable one in years. Most years there’s been a clear favorite or two going into the final stretch – "12 Years a Slave" in 2013, the combination of "Birdman" and "Boyhood" last year – but this year, no one seems certain.
"Bridge of Spies" and "Brooklyn" are both lowest on the totem pole, both nice and well-crafted movies but seemingly no one’s favorite. For a while, I was concerned the former was going to be forgotten altogether; it certainly feels that way – a crazy thing to say about a Steven Spielberg movie. "Room" can probably be crossed off as well; its win will come in Best Actress for Larson – and the fact that it pulled off a Best Picture nomination in the first place (the first for its young distributor A24).
Then there’s "Mad Max: Fury Road," which, what a day! What a lovely day! They actually did it! How freaking awesome is it that a two-hour action movie featuring an flame-throwing electric guitar is an Academy Award nominated feature – and one of the most nominated at that with 10. Frankly, it could’ve even been more if Charlize Theron’s already iconic performance and its on-point score got the credit they deserved … but I think they’ll be fine with double-digit noms. I doubt that was in mind when they crafted this:
I can’t imagine "Mad Max" taking the next step in its insane – and insanely worthy – awards run and snagging Best Picture. However, I think it could be one of the overall big winners, likely nabbing a ton of technical awards throughout the evening.
That leaves us "The Martian," "The Revenant," "Spotlight" and "The Big Short" to truly duke it out during this home stretch. "The Martian" serves as the dark horse. Normally, losing out on a directing nod would be a bad sign, but as "Argo" proved, if you play the angle right, it could instead lead to a surge. Plus, "The Martian" is the kind of movie that could win: It’s brainy, it’s gripping, it’s inspirational and it’s an optimistic crowd-pleaser that’s made a lot of money, making it the people’s choice – and, hell, the president’s choice. It’s a movie that people like to like, with very few detractors. Package all of that together, and you’ve got a solid run at Best Picture prize.
It helps that the current frontrunner, "Spotlight," has been losing steam like mad – so much so that calling it the frontrunner seems wrong. The journalism drama earned rave reviews and plenty of critics awards, and it has six nominations. But it’s just not a movie people seem in love with. It doesn’t grab the audience and demand its appreciation (unlike a certain other candidate coming up). It’s un-showy, unexceptionally exceptional filmmaking, and that’s wonderful. It’s a great film – don’t get me wrong – but that’s not quite a great Oscar-winning formula. Toss in a distributor – Open Road Films – running its first Best Picture campaign, and I see this being a slow slide off the top of the podium. Odds are good for Best Original Screenplay though.
What could supplant "Spotlight" at the top? How about the current glory boy "The Revenant," leading the pack with 12 nominations and riding high off of a good Golden Globes showing (that means nothing as the Academy and HFPA are two completely and utterly separate groups). It’s hard to imagine the Oscars going back-to-back Best Pictures from the same director – even harder considering "The Revenant" has many more detractors than "Birdman" did and doesn’t have the show business angle the Academy traditionally loves.
Still, unlike "Spotlight," "The Revenant" is the kind of movie that wants to wow and impress you with every single shot and thinks it’s got some big ideas to go with its firmly enforced grandiosity and claims of hard-earned artistic perseverance (oh, you filmed in cold temperatures? That’s cute; an entire natural location for "Mad Max" – a decades-long project – was washed away by unprecedented floods). Obviously, for a lot of people, it’s working – just like it did with "Birdman." It certainly feels like the actual frontrunner, but we’ll see how the guild awards turn out. But as for Leo? Mark him down as a lock.
That leaves "The Big Short," the hard-charging last person to the party. The star-studded economic dramedy sure built up a lot of steam over the holiday season, going from awards season unknown to sudden multi-category player. It rode that energy to five nominations, nudging into Best Director and Best Editing, two categories that often serve as key places for frontrunners. People seem to love it, and it’s the kind of movie that leaves you walking out feeling a strong emotion, probably anger – and a desire to share it with others. That’s a good attribute for an Oscar winner, and it doesn’t have the baggage – recent wins, loud detractors – that "The Revenant" carries. I’d bet "The Big Short" makes a whole lot of noise before late February arrives.
But I guess we shall see.
As for the rest of the nominations? I’m happy to see "Inside Out" in more categories other than Best Animated Film – which it will win – while Tom Hardy’s nomination for Best Supporting Actor in "The Revenant" was a nice surprise. I’m glad an actually good performance from that movie will get some attention.
I was also happy to see Roger Deakins get his thirteenth Oscar nomination for "Sicario." He’s has to actually win one of these years, but 2016 won’t be it; Lubezki’s all natural light work on "The Revenant" is too much to deny, giving him a crazy three in a row. And while we’re on the subject of "Sicario" – a great movie that I wish got more Oscar play, but oh well – I was quite pleased to see Johann Johannsson’s murky, imposing score creep in for a nomination as well.
Most happily of all, though, baffling perennial Academy favorite Tom Hooper didn’t get nominated for "The Danish Girl." So maybe the Oscars did okay after all.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.