Analyzing the Oscar Nominations

The Academy never fails to surprise or disappoint and, this year, they did both to varying degrees. Here are some of the notable takeaways from the nominations announced this morning:

Most nominated:

The Shape of Water earned 13 nominations to take the spot as the most nominated film of the year. It held on in categories such as Best Costume Design and Best Film Editing, where there was heavy competition, and pushed through into Best Supporting Actress with Octavia Spencer when it seemed that she was just beyond the edge.

The second most nominated film is Dunkirk, recognized in eight categories. The film was always a craft/technical juggernaut, and it showed up as such in Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score, Best Production Design and Best Cinematography. But the film also confirmed itself as one in the top of the pack, landing Best Director and Best Picture nominations.

A phantom contender:

Focus Features/Courtesy

While most expected nominations in Best Lead Actor for Daniel Day-Lewis and Best Costume Design for Mark Bridges, Phantom Thread was justly nominated in Best Original Score for Jonny Greenwood, Best Supporting Actress for Lesley Manville, Best Director for Paul Thomas Anderson and Best Motion Picture. Anderson films doesn’t always click with the Academy, as The Master was limited to just acting nominations and the director was only nominated in the category once before for There Will Be Blood. The same can be said about Jonny Greenwood who, despite turning in brilliant work on those previously mentioned films as well as Inherent Vice, had never been nominated before.

Firsts:

These nominations provided plenty of firsts, both for individual artists as well as in Oscar history.

  • Rachel Morrison became the first woman to be nominated in Best Cinematography.
  • Logan became the first superhero film nominated in a writing category.
  • At 88, Christopher Plummer is the oldest acting nominee.
  • Among firsts for many in their career — such as Greenwood, actresses Margot Robbie and Mary J. Blige, actors Timothée Chalamet and Daniel Kaluuya and debut directors Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele — perhaps the most notable first comes to a veteran. Christopher Nolan, director of landmark films such as MementoThe Dark Knight and Inception, earned his first Best Director nomination.
  • Dee Rees became the first Black woman to be nominated in Best Adapted Screenplay and joined Suzanne de Passe (Lady Sings the Blues) as the only Black women nominated for screenwriting.
  • Mary J. Blige became the first person ever nominated for a performance and for an original song in the same year, for the same film.
  • Netflix picked up its first non-documentary Oscar nominations with the four that Mudbound received.

Netflix/Courtesy

A year to celebrate women (but we can still do better):

Over the last fourth of 2017, culture began shifting as the world finally began talking — genuinely talking — about not only sexual assault and harassment, but other women’s rights areas such as equal pay, representation and opportunities.

Female filmmakers, particularly, have been championed and today, the Academy nominated Greta Gerwig in Best Director, making her the fifth woman to ever be nominated.

That stat is embarrassing and shameful, that there have been so few, but Gerwig’s inclusion here is rightful recognition of her beautiful accomplishment this year and, hopefully, another key moment in lifting up female filmmakers. Gerwig should not have to embody the entire movement, as that would be unfair, but the nomination is still something that will and must extend beyond the awards ceremony.

Gerwig doesn’t even have to, if one looks below the surface. Women have producing credits on six of the nine Best Picture nominees, and are recognized in, beyond Best Director, both writing categories, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Animated Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Original Song, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design and Best Sound mixing — as noted by journalist Mark Harris.

Merie Wallace/A24/Courtesyy

And while Dee Rees did not get her fair share of talk for the Best Director category and the film was omitted from Best Picture, Mudbound still showed up with four nominations, and its players also made history.

Only more change will come.

Other stories of note:

While they may not have been firsts or records, these following stories, culturally, in Oscar history and just as awesome occurrences, are of note:

  • Jordan Peele became both the third person to ever be nominated in Best Picture, Best Director and one of the writing categories for their first film, and the fifth Black person to be nominated in Best Director. Get Out released back in February and many thought, at the time, that it could compete in Best Original Screenplay and not much else. But its critical, financial and cultural success proved to hold and hold true as the year wrapped up, and the film continued to show up throughout the awards season.
  • James Franco had been predicted in the Best Lead Actor category by plenty of experts, most thinking that the allegations unveiled in the LA Times article arrived too late in the voting process — there were only two days left — for him to be left off. But Franco did end up missing, which may have been due to the allegations, the competition of other actors or, the more likely scenario, a combination of both.
  • At 22, Timothée Chalamet is the youngest Best Lead Actor nominee since 1939.
  • Christopher Plummer was announced to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World in early November. He then shot his part between November 20 and November 29. Weeks later, he was nominated at the Golden Globes. And today, a few days over two months since Plummer stepped on set, he has an Oscar nomination. The turnaround of that is one of the most mind-boggling stories of its kind.

Sony Pictures/Courtesy

Surprises:

A ‘surprise’ can usually be determined by how much love a certain film or artist got or by how many ere predicting it to show up. They can be individual or general. Here are the many:

  • Both Call Me by Your Name supporting actors missed out. Armie Hammer received plenty of buzz out of Sundance and seemed to maintain it for the first two thirds of the year. Then, Michael Stuhlbarg took over once the film came to more festivals and released to the public — likely due to his transfixing, heartbreaking speech at the end of the film. But both were passed over. The scenario wasn’t unheard of, as the same happened at the Screen Actors Guild, but many were hoping that the Academy would take a different path.
  • Most things Phantom Thread, as said before.
  • I, Tonya did not show up as strongly as many had suggested it would. As 2017 came to an end and Oscar voting got underway, there was a lot of buzz about how the film was picking up steam. And the evidence was there, with the film earning nominations at the WGA and PGA, and at other craft guilds such as makeup & hairstyling. But it seemed as though Phantom Thread got in instead.
  • Darkest Hour turned up much better than expected. The film was one of the most talked about out of the late August/early September film festivals, but seemed to have sunk as the season shaped up. There was never any doubt about Gary Oldman or Best Makeup & Hairstyling, but the film held strong in other craft categories, making it into Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography and Best Production Design. It also showed up in Best Picture, shocking many that thought that I, TonyaThe Big Sick and Mudbound were ahead of it.
  • Victoria and Abdul‘s nominations are, perhaps, on the more boring end of ‘surprise.’ The film earned nods in Best Costume Design, ahead of films like The Greatest Showman and Murder on the Orient Express, and in Best Makeup & Hairstyling, ahead of supposed strong contenders I, TonyaBright and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
  • This may not be the most evident surprise to most, but, in the Best Visual Effects category, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Kong: Skull Island showing up was not what buzz suggested. This branch holds a contender showcase, often regarded as the “bakeoff,” where each on the shortlist offers a presentation on the visual effects of their film. Word from the bakeoff pointed to OkjaThe Shape of Water and Dunkirk as the films that would fight for the final two spots. That none of them made it in is surprising.

Netflix/Courtesy

  • In the Best Documentary Feature category, two heavyweights ended up falling off — City of Ghosts and JaneCity of Ghosts was nominated at the Directors Guild and Jane won the documentary award from the Producers Guild.
  • Finally, many expected Martin McDonagh to show up in the Best Director category. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri had just won the SAG Best Ensemble award and McDonagh was nominated by the DGA. The DGA and the Oscars don’t always line up, but, with the film’s supposed (and now defunct?) frontrunner status, many thought that Peele or Gerwig would fall before he did.

Snubs:

‘Snub’ is a word that’s thrown around far too often. I adhere to a rather strict definition of what a snub really is. Granted, much of this is subjective, but I believe that a snub occurs when a film or artist left off is, in the majority opinion, of better quality than at least one of those nominated. With that definition in mind, here is a list of what the snubs of this year might be (as there will be disagreement on what’s been deemed of better quality in the majority opinion):

  • Mudbound missed out on a Best Picture nomination, and many believe that it may be due to the Netflix label, which might still be frowned upon by a significant portion of industry voters and might have caused some to even ignore the picture all together. That seems to be the only logical reason because the film is absolutely breathtaking and regarded as one of the best films of the year.
  • The Best Foreign Language Film category is hard to suggest there’s a ‘snub’ in because so few see all of the shortlisted films, so this one is based mostly on critics and the awards season. Israel contender Foxtrot emerged from the Venice Film Festival as one of the most talked about and acclaimed foreign films of the year, picking up a few awards from the festival. It won the category at the National Board of Review, and has a MetaCritic score only beaten by A Fantastic Woman.
  • As mentioned above, Jane won the PGA documentary award, making it more than a little bizarre for the film not to even be nominated.
  • Also pointed to above, Victoria and Abdul didn’t really strike many as a Best Makeup & Hairstyling nominee. The snub doesn’t come in any specific film’s exclusion, but in a variety of options instead of the Judi Dench picture.
  • Another point talked about, Michael Stuhlbarg was a critical and audience favorite. The industry respects him, and Call Me by Your Name was apparently a very strong contender in many places. It seemed strange to think that the film would only earn one acting nomination, for the newcomer lead Chalamet. So, Stuhlbarg was expected and wanted. And he deserved a nomination. The performance is lived in in every way, quiet but impactful in similar (but also opposite) ways as Best Supporting Actress nominee Lesley Manville. But what Stuhlbarg had was one of the most stunningly performed scenes of the year — the speech at the end of the film. The scene is the most talked about from the film (if not the one that’s a little more peachy) and in a year when hate was so rampant, its empathy seemed all the more powerful. How the Academy opted for Woody Harrelson, who is no better than ‘Woody being Woody’ in Three Billboards, is beyond us.

Sony Pictures Classics/Courtesy

  • We would like to formally apologize to Octavia Spencer. We have nothing against you or your performance. You are a brilliant actress, one of the best. But we would certainly call the exclusion of actresses such as Hong Chau, Holly Hunter and Tiffany Haddish — perhaps Hunter in particular due to her momentum and popularity leading up to today — snubs. Spencer is good in the role, but, let’s face it, she’s not anything more than that.
  • Our final snub is one that stings because of the history that comes along with it. Three years ago, the Academy shockingly and ridiculously omitted The LEGO Movie from Best Animated Feature. And this year, while not as shocking, they ridiculously omitted The LEGO Batman Movie. What got in instead? Ferdinand and The Boss Baby. It’s not even up for debate.

Takeaways:

The Oscar nominations are often a bit diverting from what the awards season had built up until that point. While other awards, such as those from the major guilds, point to potential outcomes at the Oscars, the Oscar nominations can change those narratives. Here are the takeaways from the nominations:

  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is not the frontrunner (to be clear, though, it never was). It’s still in contention — especially with that SAG Best Ensemble win and a Best Film Editing nomination — but missing out in Best Director is a bit crushing. Argo recently pulled off a Best Picture win without a Best Director nomination, but it seems rather unlikely for Three Billboards to do the same. McDonagh would almost certainly need to win the DGA award to craft similar momentum for the film.
  • Dunkirk is holding on in Best Picture and Best Director, thanks in part to McDonagh falling off. As awards season shaped up, Christopher Nolan’s WWII film seemed to flatline — not as a contender, but as a serious contender. But that nomination in Best Director ahead of a supposed frontrunner film’s director gives Nolan and the film a much needed boost. It’s main obstacle is that it is much more obviously a technical/craft contender. Without a nod in Best Original Screenplay, Dunkirk will probably lose out on Best Picture. But, just recently, The Revenant showed that a film can still contend, and contend up until the last moment without a writing nomination. Even if it does lose there, a win at the Directors Guild wouldn’t be surprising and would give Nolan further momentum toward possibly beating Guillermo del Toro.

Melina Sue Gordon/Warner Bros./Courtesy

  • The Shape of Water might have made up for its lack of a SAG Best Ensemble with its 13 nominations. It needed the acting nominations and safely made its way into Best Original Screenplay. And it showing up throughout the technical/craft categories shows its wide strength (every voter from every branch gets to vote on Best Picture). But this seemed to be the narrative for La La Land too, that it could make up for missing out of a nod for SAG Best Ensemble. We all know how that turned out, so let’s just say that things are still up in the air.
  • Get Out and Lady Bird are still fighting for Best Picture. Had one of them gotten a Best Film Editing nomination, the narrative would be stronger, but both making it in for Best Director is key. If the WGA award for Best Original Screenplay goes to either of these, they could pick up even more steam. And if one of them wins Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, even if the film miss out on winning Best Director, lookout for the one that does to take the night — as Spotlight and Moonlight did the same.

 

Featured image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.