Come Sunday, a.k.a. Oscars night, we’ll all be tipping our hats to the year’s winners. But before we do that, here’s to the “losers” – the worthy ones of 2016 that, for whatever cockamamie reason, didn’t even get a nomination.
In an effort to do right where the Academy effed up, I give you the Travers Awards – my own personal version of the Alt-Oscars. (For those of you playing along at home, the award is an engraved image of a critic screaming.) It’s one last chance to single out the films and performances that the Academy forgot, or ignored, or maybe just wanted to punish … the voters are like that, the vindictive bastards. Consider this: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, voted the Greatest Film of All Time in the most recent Sight & Sound critics poll, was not even nominated for Best Picture in 1959. Which film nabbed the big prize that year, you ask? It was – hold on to your la la – Gigi. We rest our case.
And over the years, the idiocy continued: No Best Picture nod for The Dark Knight or Mulholland Drive, Reservoir Dogs or Boogie Nights. No acting nods to Jeff Bridges for The Big Lebowski or John Huston for Chinatown. I could go on. But let’s just focus on the Academy’s 2017 sins of omission I hope to make up for here. This time, everyone’s a winner.
Best Picture: The Birth of a Nation
Last year at the Sundance Film Festival, critics and audiences predicted that writer-director-star Nate Parker’s incendiary recreation of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave uprising would be the movie to beat in the Oscar race for Best Picture. And with good reason: Here was the perfect antidote to all those accusations about #OscarSoWhite. The 37-year-old Virginian worked for seven years to raise the $10 million it took to depict the bloodiest slave rebellion in U.S. history, a violent conflagration that left 60 slaveowners and family members slaughtered and 200 slaves killed in retaliation. This is history seen from a black perspective, with a title reclaimed from D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film that featured KKK members as heroes. Showing people massacred “for no reason at all but being black,” Parker created a film of riveting pertinence to the present where the battle still rages to prove that #blacklivesmatter.
So why is Parker’s landmark missing from the list of nine films nominated for Best Picture? It looks like Academy voters put his past on trial, stemming back to a sexual assault charge dating back his days at Penn State. Parker was acquitted of all charges, maintaining his innocence to the last – which apparently was not good enough for Oscar voters, squeamish about separating the artist from the art. (Yes, they did award accused rapist Roman Polanski a Best Director Oscar for The Pianist in 2003. But, hey, Polanski’s a white guy. The more things change … .) Whatever you own verdict about Parker, one thing’s for sure: His film did not get justice.
Best Actor: Ryan Reynolds, Deadpool
I could make a case for Tom Hanks, who found the heroism and the human weakness in a pushed-to-the-limit pilot in Sully. But Hanks is a two-time Oscar winner who needs no awards from me. So I’m going with Ryan Reynolds, an actor who can’t get any respect, starring in a genre that voters tend to dismiss. (Heath Ledger’s turn in The Dark Knight, of course, being the rare exception). Deadpool, by the way, is a huge box-office hit. Critics liked it, too. But it still doesn’t get enough credit for being one of the best Marvel movies ever. And Reynolds’ performance as a cancer patient turned scar-faced mutant in superhero drag is a full-out pleasure. The film’s R-rating allows the actor to let it rip, breaking the fourth wall and talking shit like there’s no tomorrow – he’s hilarious. But he also gives us something underneath, the sense of a man trying to hold onto what makes him human as the world crumbles around him.
Best Actress: Kate Beckinsale, Love & Friendship
Lots of talk this year about the Oscar snubs to Annette Bening (20th Century Women), Amy Adams (Arrival) and Taraji P, Henson (Hidden Figures). My sympathies, ladies. But no one is standing up for Beckinsale, who is the picture of beauty, elegance and delicious snark as Lady Susan Vernon, a widow on the hunt in Whit Stillman’s gorgeous Jane Austen adaptation. Yes, it’s a period film, which the Academy has wearied of somewhat since the glory days of Merchant/Ivory. And, worse, the actress stars in all those Underworld vampire movies, which Oscar voters find disreputable. Come on, people, don’t be #OscarSoSnotty. If Meryl Streep had played Lady Susan, she’d be showered in gold dust by this point. The sublime Beckinsale is giving the performance of her career. It’s a crime that so few have noticed.
Best Supporting Actor: Three-Way Tie Between Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight
The Academy has shown love to Barry Jenkins’ extraordinary sophomore movie with eight well-deserved nominations, including Best Picture and supporting nods to Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris. But as for the three actors who play Chiron, the boy growing up gay and black in the Miami projects? Nada. Zilch. Bupkiss. Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes, who represent the film’s hero at three crucial stages of his life, are the heart and soul of this gamechanger of a movie. You live the story through them. And no one is better than the other: Each compliments the other with breathtaking teamwork. The Academy doesn’t give Oscars to three actors playing the same role. It’s against the rules. Not here it isn’t.
Best Supporting Actress: Greta Gerwig (20th Century Women and Jackie)
What does this wonder of an actress have to do to get noticed by the Oscars? Best known for her collaborations with directors Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs) and Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha), Gerwig broke out with new collaborators this year. In Jackie, directed by Pablo Larrain, she played Nancy Tuckerman, the secretary and old school chum of Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman) who knew and understood the public and private sides of a complex woman, maybe better than anyone. In 20th Century Women, directed by Mike Mills, Gerwig is Abbie, a twentysomething feminist photographer and cancer survivor into punk, red hair dye and learning to survive the enormous cultural sea changes that came with the end of the 1970s. Her meltdown scene is one for the time capsule.
Best Director: Martin Scorsese, Silence
It’s still difficult for me to understand how and why the Academy turned its back on the passion project that Scorsese had worked for decades to bring to the screen. Silence deals with Portuguese missionaries who risked their lives to bring the word of God to 17th-century Japan – and the film finds the legendary filmmaker wrestling with the dueling forces of faith and doubt. In images that address a silent God against the terrifying beauty of nature, Scorsese again proves himself an essential filmmaker. This may be one of those films that takes years to build an audience. No matter. It has the stuff to stand the test of time.
Best Documentary: De Palma
No knock here on the great films competing in this Oscar category, notably 13th, I Am Not Your Negro and O.J.: Made in America. But for film lovers, the doc of the year is surely the spellbinder that directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow have put together in sinful celebration of the profundities and perversities of Brian De Palma. The film simply lets the gloriously unfiltered auteur talk while incisively chosen scenes from his films spark his memories and ours. The subject’s films, especially Scarface and The Bonfire of the Vanities, still inspire as much hate as love, which makes watching them a cinematic cage match that gets your blood up. I couldn’t have liked it more.