Hollywood announced this year’s Oscar nominees on Tuesday morning, with ‘La La Land’ leading with a whopping 14 nominations.
PHOTO: DAVID BORNFRIEND / COURTESY OF A24
One of the first comments on my Twitter feed that caught my attention regarding the Academy Award nominations this morning expressed a decided lack of surprise at the nine films in the Best Picture category. As a Toronto International Film Festival attendee, I suppose I should agree, since the nominations fully support its claim as an awards season launch pad.
Arrival, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight appeared on my festival screening docket, And while I failed to fit the runner-up for the festival’s People’s Choice award, the Oscar-nominated Lion, into my schedule, I was able to arrange a meeting with the talented and quite engaging team (Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka), who created its Oscar-nominated score. That left Hacksaw Ridge, Fences (a late holiday release based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play), Hell or High Water (a summer release in the neo-Western vein) and Hidden Figures as Best Picture nominees I didn’t see at Toronto.
I skipped over Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s career recovery project. Besides snagging a Best Picture slot, Gibson muscled into the directing category, alongside the highly anticipated foursome of Denis Villeneuve (Arrival), Damien Chazelle (La La Land), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea) and Barry Jenkins (Moonlight).
We heard those names and titles often this morning. But in the case of Arrival, there seems to be one glaring omission — a nomination for Amy Adams in the Best Actress category. Adams dominates damned near every frame of this remarkable film with her richly measured performance. But even with her seemingly perennial status as an Oscar nominee, she failed to secure a place at the big table. For the next 30+ days, pundits will debate whether Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Ruth Negga (Loving) or Isabelle Huppert (Elle) claimed her spot next to the two clear front-runners – Natalie Portman (Jackie) and Emma Stone (La La Land).
If I were in the arguing mood — and given more time to brood, I certainly will be — my position would swing against everyone other than Negga from Loving. Director Jeff Nichols offered up a double feature in 2016 that was one for the books. Midnight Special found him playing in a Spielbergian wonderland on a fraction of the budget. But it was the quiet simplicity of Loving, a pivotal Civil Rights-era narrative, that flies under the radar because it lacks dramatic marches and soaring oratory.
Loving hinges on the interplay between Negga and Joel Edgerton, as the interracial couple Mildred and Richard Loving. They are longing to merely share a home and life together as husband and wife. It is difficult to fathom an Oscar nominee slate where one of these performers could be recognized without the other.
Such quibbles distract us from the richly deserved honors throughout the major categories, though. It is easy and wonderful to celebrate, for instance, the Supporting Actress field, which includes Viola Davis (Fences), Naomie Harris (Moonlight), Nicole Kidman (Lion), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea). How glad must Davis be that she’s not up against Streep, thereby guaranteeing that she may finally walk away with her first Oscar?
On the Supporting Actor front, the Moonlight team must be all-aglow over Mahershala Ali’s chances against Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea), Dev Patel (Lion) and Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals). Ali has already enjoyed a spectacularly busy year with solid supporting turns in Hidden Figures and the Netflix series Luke Cage.
Maybe the prognosticators should have been paying more attention to the Best Actor category. Of all the major fields, this is the one that has me scratching my head the most. I firmly believe Casey Affleck was the only sure thing for a nomination (and the inevitable win), but I’m not sure I would have had him up against Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge), Ryan Gosling (La La Land), Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic) and Denzel Washington (Fences). Denzel, sure, and Gosling is a relatively obvious pick.
But Garfield and Mortensen? Garfield is all awe-shucks Americana, which felt more than a little like a broken record endlessly skipping over the same one note. And I have to acknowledge that Captain Fantastic came and went before I got the chance to check it out. For my money, I feel one of these two likely snatched Edgerton’s seat right out from under him, just as the music stopped.
What should it all be about, Alfie? Well, these nominations, if they are promoted the right way, will compel audiences to spend the next 30-odd days seeking out the important films they haven’t seen (or maybe take a second look at a favorite). The nominations and awards serve to remind us that, in the end, we’re the real winners.