Awards obsessives spend months speculating, tracking patterns, tuning in to the yay-or-nay buzz, consulting and re-consulting our tea leaves – but at the end of the day, nobody knows anything except the person holding that little envelope. Months of prognostication were upended this morning when the nominations for the 89th annual Academy Awards were finally announced (the telecast runs Sunday, February 26th), sending the internet into a tizzy of insta-analysis over the shocks, surprises … and of course, the snubs.
With 2016 yielding a bumper crop of excellent films and performances, some perfectly worthy potential nominees were bound to get edged out. So while agents field apoplectic phone calls on the most hectic day of the showbiz year, let’s take stock of the most heinous omissions in this year’s Oscar lineup – from deserving parties overshadowed by the buzz cycle to presumed frontrunners that went inexplicably ignored.
No big deal, nothing to see here, just arguably the greatest living American filmmaker completing a decades-long passion project that could very well be his magnum opus. It’s not hard to see why Martin Scorsese’s religious epic about Jesuit missionaries suffering in Japan went almost entirely ignored by the Academy – it’s a punishing, draining three-hour experience that had minimal publicity and a quiet late-year release. That doesn’t make its exclusion any easier to take, though; ditto seeing Mel Gibson’s name in that Best Director lineup instead of Scorsese’s. God forgive us.
In a year with so many outstanding turns from lead actresses, somebody had to fall through the cracks. What a shame that it had to be Annette Bening, so movingly earnest as a mother struggling to give her son the upbringing he needs in 20th Century Women. There’s humor, pathos, strength and vulnerability in her performance, possibly a career-best – maybe all she was missing was that big Oscar Moment, the one clip that stick in the voters’ minds long after they’ve left the theater. But hey, they can’t all have monologues about their cool aunt who jumped into a river in France.
The expansion of the Best Picture category was designed as an effort to incorporate more populist favorites after The Dark Knight was edged out in 2008, and it looked like Ryan Reynolds’ smart-ass superhero flick was going to be the beneficiary of that policy this year. After the Golden Globes wholeheartedly endorsed the year’s most irreverent men-in-tights movie, the Merc with a Mouth appeared to be on the fast track to Oscar night. It turns out that the permanently smirking comic book deconstruction full of poop jokes and other sophomoric humor, however, wasn’t the right fit for the slightly higher-browed Oscar crowd after all.
Adams shone as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics expert racing against time to decipher the inscrutable messages that alien visitors have sent humanity in Arrival. The performance was a real balancing act, with the actress having to negotiate the more straightforwardly sci-fi material and the mind-bending philosophical jumps that the film makes as it rolls into its third act. She also had the chance to nab a slot courtesy of her solid work in Tom Ford’s meta-noir Nocturnal Animals – but no dice there either. Chalk this up as another casualty of this year’s crazily overstuffed Best Actress race
Ruth Negga deservedly secured a spot in the Best Actress race, but this once-favored period piece missed out big time everywhere else. Her costar Joel Edgerton and director Jeff Nichols both got the heave-ho, and the movie was outright ignored in the Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture categories. It may have been the film’s humble nature that kept it out of the Oscar spotlight; the film centers on two people uncomfortably trying to shrug off their own historical significance instead of owning it in the way that the women of Hidden Figures did. Voters have always favored fiery speechifying over pregnant silences – and this snub baldly reinforces that notion.
When his moody, mercurial biopic Jackie played at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September, Larraín’s name instantly shot to the top of the Best Director contender list. His stately rendering of White House glamour and beautifully worn photography made fans out of many critics, and Natalie Portman wouldn’t have broken into the Best Actress race without her director’s careful counsel. Why, then, is he AWOL this morning? You can write it off to the chilly, reserved nature of the film or simply tough competition this year, but it’s still a crime.
A kinky rape-fetishizing thriller laced with sadistic black comedy sounds like a hard sell to Academy voters, but after getting the boot from the Best Foreign-Language Film shortlist, Elle was on the Best Picture table for a minute there. The unimpeachable excellence of Isabelle Huppert’s lead performance counted for a lot (and there she is, hanging out in the Best Actress category), plus Paul Verhoeven’s name still had some of the recognition as a director of provocative American studio pictures during the Nineties. But some tastes are too exotic even for the reputedly highbrow awards program.
A big hit, a movie star owning his charisma, a name-brand director with plenty of Oscar love in the past – where did Sully veer off course? (Sorry.) Maybe it just wasn’t made for these times; this year was all about topical matters, from the tender queer love of Moonlight to the glass-ceiling-shattering of Hidden Figures, from the multicultural identity politics of Lion to the Obama-era economic struggles of Hell or High Water. Clint Eastwood’s ode to the heroic pilot is an old-fashioned sort of film, an account of a stoic, strong-silent-type man forced to account for his own heroism by a bunch of pencil-necks. The winds of change weren’t blowing in this one’s favor. Not even Tom Hanks could get a nod.
Breaking a five-year streak of nominations for the master cinematographer, the Academy shunned Deakins’ ravishingly good-looking camerawork on the Coen brothers’ Old Hollywood throwback Hail, Caesar! this year. Deakins did a bangup job of capturing the look and feel of the Fifties, saturating everything with a golden hue that calls to mind the cinematic spectacles of old. In an era where every major studio doggedly chases the nostalgia dollar, Deakins actually conjured that rarest of feelings, but alas, the February release had fallen off everyone’s radar by ballot-casting time.
As the publicly-shitting, scraggly-haired redneck criminal that terrorizes the heroine of Nocturnal Animals‘ book-with-the-movie, Taylor-Johnson clearly left an impact on the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. They voted him Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes and instantly ushered him to the front of the Oscar conversation. But there’s no such thing as a sure thing, as clearly evidenced by his snub in favor of costar Michael Shannon, who played the lawman tracking him down.
Kirsten Johnson’s formally adventurous documentary earned heaps of praise for its cine-journal style and personal take on going once more unto the breach of political hotspots – but its commendably unclassifiable quality may have worked against it come awards time. It’s more of a film essay/personal visual statement than strict documentary, collecting Johnson’s various footage shot over several years and arranging it in a challenging, nonlinear fashion. The more experimental documentaries have historically fared poorly in the Oscar race, and while making it onto the nine-film shortlist was a victory of its own, Johnson’s film couldn’t win over the voting body.
Technically, Pharrell did land a nomination this year, but only in his capacity as a producer of Best Picture contender Hidden Figures. His solid-gold soul tune “Runnin” was shut out of the Best Original Song category, however, squeezed out by a pair of tunes from La La Land, a selection from Moana, and Justin Timberlake’s inescapable pop hit from Trolls. Pharrell is a known name to the Oscar voters, too, having been nominated for “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 two years ago. Looks like it’s a lot easier to make it to Oscar night if your single is currently dominating the airwaves.
There was a time when you could set your watch by Pixar’s inevitable return to the Best Animated Feature category, but apparently that time has gone by. Their big project for 2016 fell back behind the latest from Laika and Disney, not to mention smaller-scale foreign imports The Red Turtle and My Life as a Zucchini. How’d it happen? Blame sequel fatigue; Pixar has started dipping back into their own library of content and though the public made Finding Dory one of the most successful films of the year at the box-office, the Oscar voters clearly favored something a bit more original.
Oscars 2017: ‘La La Land’ earned a record-tying 14 nominations, while ‘Moonlight,’ ‘Arrival’ and ‘Hell or High Water’ picked up multiple nods.