The nominations for the 88th Academy Awards were announced this morning. Feast your eyes on them and then enjoy our hot takes. We warmed them up just for you.
So, Andrew, I have a hard time thinking of a way to start with anything but the following. HOLY SHIT! MAD MAX: FURY ROAD GOT TEN OSCAR NOMINATIONS! TEN!!! THAT’S CRAZY. I CAN STILL SCARCELY BELIEVE IT. WHAT KIND OF CRAZY WORLD ACTUALLY LETS OSCAR VOTERS SEE A POST-APOCALYPTIC PUNK ROCK AUTOMOTIVE ACTION MOVIE AND VOTE IT INTO BEST PICTURE AND DIRECTOR?!?!!?!
Okay, with that out of my system, I can actually talk shop. The nominations leader is The Revenant, which is a movie both of us found to be utterly vacuous. Leonardo DiCaprio is very definitely going to win Best Actor for his role as mountain man Hugh Glass, but I am having a hard time seeing The Revenant winning a ton of awards beyond that. Not only does it feel like the type of movie that peaks on nomination morning, but its writer/director, Alejondro G. Inarritu, just won Oscars for Screenplay, Director, and Picture last year. Nobody has won those big awards in back-to-back years since Joseph L. Mankiewicz did it in 1950. That isn’t something that Oscar voters will actually think about as they vote, but it’s still a huge statistic.
Considering that, I think our prohibitive favorite to win Best Picture is Spotlight. It’s a small movie and looked like it was slipping during the precursors over the past month. This morning gave it a big shot in the arm, though, since it landed acting nominations for Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams and a Film Editing nod. Those nominations are about as much as could reasonably be expected and make me think it’s the movie to beat at the moment.
I want you to keep preaching on your two big points. Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most jaw-dropping, breathtaking, ecstatic films of my lifetime. The Revenant is pointless dreck illuminated only by Chivo at his apex…and coming off two wins in a row, he may not win for the same reason as Inarritu. Here’s what fascinates me: apart from the acting nods for DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, Fury Road and The Revenant go head-to-head in ten categories. TEN. It’s a battle I think is unprecedented. And it may mean nothing because in addition to those nominations you mentioned above, Spotlight picked up a slot for writing, which in my mind means the Academy takes it with an extra degree of seriousness.
But let’s look at the other five Best Picture nominees for a moment. The only one I missed is Bridge of Spies, which seemed to me to be solid and unspectacular. Brooklyn is an unambitious but endearing movie that is so reminiscent of classic Hollywood that I’m not surprised by the love it received. The Big Short and The Martian are two of the most intelligent and genuinely entertaining films you could imagine coming from the big studios and they deserve every nomination they got. Room‘s across-the-board racking up of the major categories was a small surprise, especially when Lenny Abrahamson bumped Sir Ridley Scott and Todd Haynes out of Best Director, but it is a picture of impeccable crafting and genuine uplift.
However, it wouldn’t be an Oscar column from us if we were happy about everything. Here are my four biggest complaints:
- The Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories are a snooze, and the more I think about them, the sleepier I get. I was a fan of Matt Damon’s charm, Michael Fassbender’s breathlessness, and Mark Ruffalo’s commitment to an unusual character, but there was nothing of special power or interest. (Fassbender came the closest, which is kind of bizarre.)
- The Academy’s refusal to fill all ten spots for Best Picture continues to frustrate, and this year Carol is my great frustration. This beautiful, searing movie got five nominations for the great work of its stars, cinematographer, writer, and first-time nominee Carter Burwell, so the Picture shutout is a mystery.
- While I can’t slam Burwell, Morricone, or Williams (who gave us what may be his final masterpiece with “Rey’s Theme”), several less-known names produced the best scores of the year in my opinion: veteran Harry Gregson-Williams (The Martian) and newcomers Michael Brook (Brooklyn) and Stephen Rennicks (Room) created work that has lodged in my brain and never left.
- Most damningly of all, for the second year in a row, despite two films in particular that made lots of money and were critical successes, no POC acting nominees and very few in the technical categories.
So three big questions, Alex: What were your personal peeves beyond Revenant love? What nominations apart from George Miller & Co. made you the happiest? And how do you feel about Sam Smith, Lady Gaga, AND The Weeknd gracing the Kodak Stage?
My biggest disappointment outside of The Revenant leading the nominations despite being complete crap is the continued lack of diversity among the nominees. Two years in a row without a person of color nominated for acting doesn’t sound awful at first blush. Then the realization that that means 40 slots over those two years went to white actors. That’s flabbergasting and damning. The film critic Sam Adams tweeted that the Academy only nominating white cast and crew from Straight Outta Compton and Creed is “like a criminal asking to be caught.” It’s probably not conscious racism, homophobia, or sexism, but these snubs transparently reflect an unconscious bias towards the straight white male hegemony in Hollywood.
I do think it goes beyond just the Academy voters, though. Most film critics (including us) are straight white men. Many Oscar prognosticators and the industry strategists they work with are also straight white men. From top-to-bottom, the Oscar food chain is built upon people like us. Many are open-minded and thoughtful, of course, but it’s called an unconscious bias for a reason. Maybe it will have to take a generational change to see this pattern break down? I’m not sure. I just hope the tide turns sooner rather than later.
As to what else I liked, there weren’t really many down-ballot surprises or delights for me. The performances of Fury Road and Spotlight were gratifying, but also expected. Maybe it’s just bad luck, but I was left relatively unimpressed by many of the late-breaking films I saw. The Big Short is good, but it’s not a movie I’m emotionally attached to. Bridge of Spies is good in every respect, but is the very antithesis of a passion pick. The Hateful Eight is a hard movie to figure out, much less adore. The Revenant is, as we’ve made clear, a useless sack of crap. Guess I should have listened to you and Travis and seen Room and Star Wars by now?
As to your last question, I have no response to any of those things except slight befuddlement. I learned long ago that Best Original Song is the blackest sheep in the Academy Awards and should only be thought of when we need lols. There are none this year. So we must look to the glorious past.
Close us out, Andrew, and then wave like Joni on your way out.
This year was my favorite year for films in about a decade and the Oscars reflects that: I was irritated by half of last year’s slate but this year gave me a plethora of movies I loved and am so happy the Academy recognized. My comments on Original Song were a bit of a joke, but I am thrilled that the category allowed The Hunting Ground and Youth to receive nominations. And I’ll see you your “Alone Yet Not Alone” and raise you the song I’m rooting for by Her Ladyship.
Speaking of ladies, the Actress categories made me want to stand up and cheer. Not only did the great Charlotte Rampling get her first nomination (and you best believe I’ll be reviewing 45 Years when it opens here), but the slate also read like the next two decades of Hollywood: veterans Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet and newer blood Brie Larson, Saorise Ronan, Rooney Mara, and Alicia Vikander all did standout acting that put their male counterparts to shame–heck, Larson gave the best performance of the year and Vikander could have been a double nominee–and give me a lot of optimism for powerful female voices in Hollywood.
I love Edward Lachman’s Super 16mm cinematography, and that I got to see three of the five Best Animated Feature nominees and all of them were terrific (Anomalisa, Inside Out, When Marnie Was There), and that Best Adapted Screenplay may be the first Oscar category where I will applaud whoever wins (though a bit more for Drew Goddard’s complex script for The Martian and Emma Donoghue adapting her own novel), and I love that the Academy favored stories that severely criticize destructive institutions and revel in feminism. Yes, they also favored Leonardo DiCaprio’s trip to the Dead Spotted Horse (TM Travis), but as Jason reminded us in our post-nomination conversations, films with lots of nods can and will strike out in the heat of competition, his example being American Hustle–I think the Academy got embarrassed by their generosity as easily as I am now embarrassed by my decent review. (It’s still up on here for those who want to see me strain to praise it.
I know we’ll be watching the next month and a half closely before popping our own champagne on February 28th, and I’m thrilled to have an Oscars with multiple films to relish.
And in conclusion, let me point out that a) no matter how good the melody is, honoring a song that rhymes “unexpected” and “expected” annoys the crap out of me and b) go see Room and Star Wars already.