No matter how silly or self-important the Academy Awards appear to be (and let’s face it, so often are), the fact remains that the Oscars are so much more than just an awards show. They also serve as a veritable referendum on contemporary film, a place where a thousand different narratives — both on screen and behind the scenes — collide, converse and campaign for a better shot at being remembered. If every snub tells a story, then every nomination does as well — and these are the ones that we’ll be talking about between now and the ceremony on February 28th.
Harvey Weinstein Strikes Out
Time and again, Harvey Weinstein has shown an unparalleled ability to turn arthouse water into Oscar wine. You know how sports people always say that it’s about “who wants it more?” It doesn’t matter which film he’s peddling, or what competition he’s up against — Harvey Weinstein wants it more. But for the first time since 2008, Weinstein doesn’t have his name on a single Best Picture nominee (though the Weinstein Company did land 10 nominations, overall). While his pair of award-driven movies this year, Carol and The Hateful Eight, might have been long shots to win Best Picture, the fact of the matter is horses owned by the man who beat Saving Private Ryan with Shakespeare in Love are always in the race. Unless, of course, they’re not in the running at all.
If you want to find some color among this year’s roster of nominees, you really have to know where to look. Like the Best Animated Short Film category, for example, where Sanjay Patel has been nominated for Sanjay’s Super Team. Or Best Original Song, where the Weeknd got a shout out for his contribution to Fifty Shades of Grey. Nothing brought the profound lack of racial diversity more clearly into focus, though, than Creed, for which Sylvester Stallone scored a Best Supporting Actor nod, while director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan were both overlooked. But it’s okay: Straight Outta Compton was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, so Hollywood’s institutional racism is obviously the stuff of a bygone era. Somewhere, Oscar host Chris Rock is licking his lips.
But it wasn’t all bad news on the diversity front. While Tangerine‘s trans star Mya Taylor didn’t receive the Best Actress nomination so many people hoped she would, musician Antony Hegarty became the second trans person ever nominated for an Academy Award (the first was Angela Morley). Her urgent ballad “Manta Ray,” which appeared on the soundtrack for the environmental doc Racing Extinction, snagged a well-deserved nod for Best Original Song. Here’s hoping that Antony performs at the ceremony, as the sound of her voice would guarantee at least one beautiful moment amidst the usual interminable dross of the telecast.
Carter Burwell Scores His First Nomination
Judging by composer Carter Burwell’s IMDB page, it would seem as if he’s scored approximately half of the great American movies made during the last 30 years (Being John Malkovich, Fargo, etc.), but until this morning he had exactly zero Oscar nominations to show for his hard work. Fortunately, the brilliant musician had the savvy to recognize that his score for Todd Hayne’s Carol was something special, and — for the first time in his career — he agreed to campaign for it (read our interview with Burwell). Lo and behold, it turns out that you can’t win if you don’t play.
Lubezki Goes for the Three-peat
Very few people have managed to take home an Oscar in three consecutive years, and most of them only did so by gaming the system. (Walt Disney won eight straight times for producing animated shorts in the Thirties, while the visual effects guys behind the Lord of the Rings trilogy scored gold for each of the three films.) In other words, it’ll be a pretty big deal if The Revenant cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubzezki, who won last year for Birdman and the year before that for Gravity, earns his third straight victory. And there’s no denying that he’d deserve it.
Subtlety Is Overlooked
The Academy Awards have never exactly bent over backwards to champion those films that only come alive when watched closely (so often you hear that voters don’t watch the films at all), but this year’s crop of Best Picture nominees seems louder than ever. Fury Road, for all its nuance, isn’t exactly a wallflower, while The Revenant screams across the wilderness with the voice of God. There’s a Spielberg joint, a movie about sexual enslavement, one in which a nude Margot Robbie explains the housing crisis, and a charming immigration tale that makes sure that every beat is big enough to be seen on both sides of the Atlantic. In this case, Spotlight is the only outlier, a movie about the precious details that sneak by the people responsible for catching them.
The Academy Rides Shiny and Chrome
While the box office numbers might suggest that The Force Awakens was 2015’s most galvanizing blockbuster, the Oscar nominations suggest that history will likely have a very different — and far more unlikely — story to tell. For a while, it seemed as though George Miller was tilting at windmills when he decided to reboot the beloved post-apocalyptic series that first put his name on the map, just as it seemed like Warner Bros was insane for giving him more than $100 million to do it. And then Mad Max: Fury Road finally came out on May 15th, and oh, what a lovely day! A righteous feminist spectacle that had more brains and more brawn than could be expected from any movie of its size, Fury Road is now nominated for a whopping 10 Academy Awards. Sometimes, the powers that be actually hear the people chanting from the ground below.
Netflix Is Certified Gold
It’s hard out there for a new film company, particularly one that’s exploding the most fundamental rules about how movies are distributed. Netflix plunged into the world of original features this year, and they made some bold baby steps towards Hollywood legitimacy (most notably with Beasts of No Nation, simultaneously released on the streaming service and in theaters). Nothing establishes an upstart like some love from the Academy, and Netflix scored two nominations for Best Documentary thanks to Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom and What Happened, Miss Simone? The feature side of things remains something for the streamers to strive for, as Beasts came up empty-handed.
Morricone Could Win His First Competitive Oscar
When was the last time that someone was nominated for an Oscar after receiving an honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement? (The answer, for anyone playing along, is 2007, when Peter O’Toole was nominated for his role in Venus four years after receiving the career award.) Thanks to the vintage score he wrote for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who’s been nominated five times, could finally take home a statue.
Don Hertzfeldt Might Have to Change his Twitter Bio
DIY animator Don Hertzfeldt was nominated for — and lost — an Oscar back in 2001. His Twitter bio reads: “director of things / Oscar loser.” As you might infer from our 25 Reasons We Loved the Movies in 2015 list, we’re really hoping he’ll have to change that soon. Sorry for the inconvenience, Don, but World of Tomorrow was worth it.