And so, it’s that time of year again, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences reveals its nominations for the Oscars, and the Internet lights up like a nuclear-fuelled firecracker in its efforts to assess, evaluate, consider, and scrutinize with a fine toothcomb the nominees and their suitability in being nominated. It’s an established practice, carried out the world over, as everyone and his auntie (even the ones who haven’t seen any of the movies concerned), pick over the bones of the nominations and declare their approval or disapproval. Last year, there was controversy over the Oscars being too “ethnically under-represented”, but at least this year that’s not a problem. So without any of that furore on the horizon again, perhaps we can all agree that the nominations this year should be judged purely on merit. Anyone with an agenda – get on to the back of the queue.
Like everyone else, thedullwoodexperiment can’t help but chip in with its thoughts and opinions, and provide a pre-ceremony appraisal of the Academy’s choices. Here are the main nominations, with particular emphasis on the movies or people who should be listed but aren’t. It seems every year the Academy omits a movie or someone who should be nominated seemingly without question – Carol as Best Film from last year’s nominations springs to mind. So let’s see if the Academy has got it entirely right this year (unlikely, but you never know).
NOTE: Movies/people in bold are the ones who should be winners on the night.
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Arrival; Fences; Hacksaw Ridge; Hell or High Water; Hidden Figures; La La Land; Lion; Manchester by the Sea; Moonlight
Now that this list can go to a maximum of ten, it’s curious that with the inclusion of more movies each year, and each apparently deserving of the recognition, that there’s always two or three that could easily be jettisoned and it wouldn’t make any major difference. This year those movies are Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, and Lion, all great movies in their own right, but not Year Best material when compared to the rest of the list. But otherwise this should be La La Land‘s night, and rightly so, for bringing some much needed mainstream magic back to movie going, and for reminding us that doomy, gloomy tales of the lives of people struggling against disability or deprivation or both, aren’t always what we want to see winning awards.
Best Achievement in Directing
Damien Chazelle – La La Land; Mel Gibson – Hacksaw Ridge; Barry Jenkins – Moonlight; Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea; Denis Villeneuve – Arrival
Best Film and Best Director should always go hand in hand, something the Academy ignores from time to time, but this year they’ve chosen well, though room could perhaps have been made for Paul Verhoeven (for Elle) and Denzel Washington (for Fences). That said, Chazelle should get the nod, although if there’s going to be one major upset on the night, it could be Lonergan accepting the award instead – and you know what? That actually wouldn’t be so bad.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Casey Affleck – Manchester by the Sea; Andrew Garfield – Hacksaw Ridge; Ryan Gosling – La La Land; Viggo Mortensen – Captain Fantastic; Denzel Washington – Fences
In the acting awards, La La Land may not be as successful as it was at the Golden Globes, and it’s a brave individual who’d vote against Affleck after seeing his performance… but if you had to then Washington would be the outside bet worth making. Both performances are astonishing, albeit for different reasons, but Washington’s success with Fences on stage may be the mitigating factor that gives Mrs Affleck’s younger boy his first Oscar.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Isabelle Huppert – Elle; Ruth Negga – Loving; Natalie Portman – Jackie; Emma Stone – La La Land; Meryl Streep – Florence Foster Jenkins
It’s hard to imagine a year when Meryl Streep doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar, but somewhere along the way, the Academy screwed up royally by nominating Streep over Amy Adams’ career best performance in Arrival. It’s a head scratcher, that’s for sure. But even if they had voted for Adams, there’s still no one to touch Huppert’s superb portrayal in Elle, a performance that is several shades and nuances and quirks and intuitions ahead of everyone else on the list… and then some.
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali – Moonlight; Jeff Bridges – Hell or High Water; Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea; Dev Patel – Lion; Michael Shannon – Nocturnal Animals
Somehow, this year’s list seems a little underwhelming. Are these really the best supporting roles by an actor? While it’s true that Shannon was one of the best things in Nocturnal Animals (along with Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who could also have been nominated), and Patel helps raise the bar for Lion, only Ali’s brief appearance in Moonlight comes even close to the amazing work of Hedges, who held his own against a powerhouse performance by Affleck, and showed a confidence that belied his years and his acting experience.
Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Viola Davis – Fences; Naomie Harris – Moonlight; Nicole Kidman – Lion; Octavia Spencer – Hidden Figures; Michelle Williams – Manchester by the Sea
All hail Queen Viola! In any other year, Harris’s incredible performance in Moonlight would be a sure-fire winner, but this is one of the few, truly can’t miss nominations. Davis’ performance in Fences is on another level entirely, and if by some miracle or cosmic intervention she doesn’t win, then it will be one of the few times when the word “travesty” can be used with complete accuracy.
Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
Land of Mine; A Man Called Ove; The Salesman; Tanna; Toni Erdmann
A German comedy? As an Oscar winner? It doesn’t seem right, somehow, and yet Maren Ade’s astonishing movie – a comic nightmare of grand proportions – is quite simply in a league of its own. The one movie that could have challenged it for the Oscar, Elle, was snubbed by the Academy (shame on them!), and though the other nominated movies are all fine and worthy in and of themselves, Toni Erdmann is, like the title character himself, simply from another world.
Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
Kubo and the Two Strings; Moana; My Life as a Zucchini; The Red Turtle; Zootopia
Disney had their best year ever thanks to their previous acquisitions of Marvel and Pixar, but Zootopia was the in-house production that proved to be smarter, funnier, and more enjoyable than all the other movies they had a hand in. Zootopia was also the unexpected hit that grossed over a billion dollars, and its inclusion here, a movie that was released in March 2016, thankfully shows that the Academy doesn’t suffer from short term memory syndrome. But Moana? Really?
Best Adapted Screenplay
Luke Davies – Lion; Eric Heisserer – Arrival; Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney – Moonlight; Allison Schroeder, Theodore Melfi – Hidden Figures; August Wilson – Fences
This category should be one of the hardest to pick out a winner, but Wilson’s already acclaimed play, and its big screen adaptation, aren’t too far apart from each other, so how can it lose? Moonlight is its strongest challenger, but like Huppert’s performance in Elle, and La La Land‘s shoo-in status for Best Film, this is one award that can only go one way – and if it doesn’t, then Wilson should be contacting Viola Davis for the name of her lawyer.
Best Original Screenplay
Damien Chazelle – La La Land; Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou – The Lobster; Kenneth Lonergan – Manchester by the Sea; Mike Mills – 20th Century Women; Taylor Sheridan – Hell or High Water
Of all the sections listed here, this one feels like the Academy had the hardest struggle to come up with five best original screenplays. Lonergan and Chazelle certainly belong here, but in making up the numbers, the Academy appears not to have tried too hard in putting together a decent list. While not trying to denigrate the other nominees entirely, a list that doesn’t include the likes of Matt Ross (for Captain Fantastic) or Jim Jarmusch (for Paterson) just isn’t doing itself justice.
Best Achievement in Cinematography
Greig Fraser – Lion; James Laxton – Moonlight; Rodrigo Prieto – Silence; Linus Sandgren – La La Land; Bradford Young – Arrival
In a group of very strong, and individual achievements in cinematography, this could really go any way on the night, and Sandgren’s contribution to La La Land could well see him going home with a coveted Oscar, but Prieto’s work has a sublime beauty to it that the other movies lack, and his sense of composition makes every frame look impressive. And you would be forgiven for thinking that a good outside bet would be Laxton for Moonlight, a movie that looks far more lustrous than you might think from knowing its subject matter.
If you disagree with any of the above, feel free to voice your concerns by commenting, or by waiting until 26 February, when the Oscars take place, and millions of us will take our places in front of our TVs or computers. Only then will we know who got it right – us or the Academy.