Sam Reynolds ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Fresh off two straight years of #OscarSoWhite controversy, which have plagued both the Academy’s reputation and credibility, the nominees for the 89th Academy Awards were announced this morning. Film enthusiasts and critics alike were watching with obvious cynicism, awaiting to see if the Academy had finally learned from their past mistakes in not recognizing any minority groups in the acting categories, especially. While The Oscars will never be able to escape criticism and inevitably get trashed by both internet and critics alike – and not without good reason – it’s hard to deny the excitement of hoping the right people get recognized every year, and unleashing furious anger when that often fails to be the case. Sometimes surprisingly on point, always disappointingly behind in the times: here are the surprises and snubs for the 89th Academy Awards.
The Lobster – Original Screenplay
Since debuting at the Cannes Film Festival in 2015, Yorgos Lanthimos’ international absurdist comedy on modern relationships has already become somewhat of a polarizing critical darling. Though not a mainstream hit in America, The Lobster has amassed a cult following throughout 2016… and with good reason. Lanthimos’ dry, hilariously upfront dialogue and tragic plot twists are both brilliantly written and brought to the screen; easily up there with the best written material of the last year. So it’s a pleasant surprise that the Academy recognized this weird piece of satire, when it easily could have gone to a more expected mainstream hit such as Zootopia, which was expected to grab a nomination.
My Life As a Zucchini – Best Animated Picture
Speaking of oddball projects surprisingly recognized this year, perhaps nothing is weirder than the Academy bestowing a nomination to the Swedish animated tale My Life as a Zucchini over animation juggernaut Finding Dory from Pixar. But what a fantastic surprise. My Life As a Zuchini is an absolutely charming and heartwarming tale that isn’t afraid to take risks… from the story of an orphan named Zuchini finding his place among a ragtag group of fellow orphans to the beautifully detailed stop-motion animation. The Oscars could have easily overlooked this film, as well as fellow quality nominees The Red Turtle and Kubo and the Two Strings in favor of the countless animated hits released in 2016. But The Academy is seemingly beginning to understand the true value of an original animated film over a commercial money grab. Let’s hope that they begin rewarding these small triumphs even more going forward.
Ruth Negga (Loving) – Best Actress
The race for Best Actress has been one of the tightest in any category in recent memory. Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, and Isabelle Huppert have been locks for months now, leaving Oscar veterans Amy Adams, Annette Bening, and Meryl Streep to battle it out for those last two slots. In such a heated race, nobody counted out first-time nominee Ruth Negga, but she definitely seemed like the outlier among such recognized competition. Even beyond that, The Oscars have notoriously almost only recognized black performances when they have been seen as a sure thing in the months leading up to the ceremony. The odds were clearly not in Negga’s favor. Though this pick can be seen as The Oscars finally listening and adding diversity to the Best Actress race, Negga’s performance as Mildred Loving has garnered nothing but praise since the film’s release, and is without a doubt deserved. Hopefully this is a sign that the Academy will broaden their horizons in years to come, even if they’re off to a rocky start.
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge) – Best Director
I guess Mel Gibson is back in the Academy’s good graces now? Though Hacksaw Ridge was a shoe-in for a Best Picture and Actor nomination, it seems like a very personal form of validation that the Academy nominated Mel Gibson for Best Director, given his turbulent and anti-semitic past that has practically killed his career over the last decade. In a race where Garth Davis seemed like a competent pick for his work in Lion or Jeff Nichols for his two critical hits Midnight Special and Loving… or in a year where Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and Denzel Washington are all due for some recognition… doesn’t it seem strange that they went with Mel Gibson? That’s not even meant to be an insult to his work on Hacksaw Ridge, but wouldn’t a Best Picture nomination be enough to recognize the guy nobody really wants to recognize much anymore? Call it the comeback story nobody really wanted.
The Empty Chair (Jim: The James Foley Story) – Original Song
I guess the Academy is a sucker for Sting? This pick in the Original Song category is such a surprise mainly because this song was on nobody’s radar. Have you heard of this song? I’d put a pretty safe bet on probably not. Oscar politics aside, there’s nothing particularly memorable about The Empty Chair as a standalone song. It seems to follow a long line of Oscar-bait numbers that do their best to tug at the heartstrings, but just go through the motions of using a classic rock star to sound reflective over the piano. Perhaps it works better in the context of the movie and I’ll be regretting my words come Oscar night. But based off the song alone, it sounds like a safe choice that nobody even knew enough about to be a safe choice.
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) – Best Supporting Actor
One would think Michael Shannon has been nominated for countless Oscars, but this is actually only his second time being nominated, his first being for his supporting role in 2008’s Revolutionary Road. Though his work in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals has garnered more acclaim than Loving in 2016, this nomination seems more of a way for the Academy to acknowledge Shannon’s incredible acting resume throughout the years, and less for a specific performance.
Suicide Squad – Makeup and Hairstyling
The Academy must’ve been the only one who enjoyed The Joker’s tattoos, or was falsely under the assumption that everybody else did. Either way, they’re wrong.
Stephen Henderson (Fences) – Supporting Actor
It’s truly a shame that the Academy failed to recognize Stephen Henderson’s sympathetic performance in Denzel Washington’s Fences. His work as best friend Jim Bono was truly the film’s silent heart and soul. The wisdom and dedication he tirelessly lends to Washington’s hard-to-like Troy is what keeps Washington’s performance and interpretation of the character grounded, and the entire film afloat. On the off-chance Denzel pulls out a win come Oscar night, he’ll be sure to thank Henderson for his incredible performance.
Literally Any Song (Sing Street) – Original Song
La La Land didn’t need to be recognized for two separate songs. You’d be hard pressed to pick out The Empty Chair from any other Oscar nominated song from a rock legend over the past two decades. Can’t Stop the Feeling was made to cater to radio before fitting into anything involving Trolls. All of these picks overcrowd the Original Song category, and unfortunately Sing Street – another entirely original movie/musical from 2016, and what should have been a legitimate contender – bites the dust because of it. You could have picked almost any song from the soundtrack and it would deserve a spot on this list. The Riddle of the Model. Drive It Like You Stole It. Up. They are all inventive and original tributes to ’80s pop-rock and are instantly likable. It’s almost a crime the Academy failed to recognize it.
20th Century Women – Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress
Though it was never a high contender in the Best Picture category, 20th Century Women is a refreshingly original “dramedy” about a bunch of offbeat characters trying to learn how to grow up and listen to each other without ever really learning how to listen. It’s ensemble cast is what ties it all together, and it’s a real shame that both Annette Bening and Greta Gerwig weren’t recognized above all else. Both effortlessly portray complex women and balance personal turmoil with heartwarming comedy along with everything else in between. Their performances are completely organic and anything but conventional, and are more than worthy of the Academy’s praise.
Silence – Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing
It seems that this is the first Scorsese movie to fly under the radar in over two decades. Perhaps it came too late in the game to catch any awards momentum, but Silence should be any Academy member’s wet dream. A Scorsese-directed high-drama historical piece with an all-star cast about Christianity? And it’s well-executed and thought-provoking? I’m not sure how this wasn’t able to catch anyone’s attention come awards season, or why it didn’t seem to campaign harder than it did, but either way I doubt Scorsese cares too much. He doesn’t need anymore validation to know what a master he is and seems content that he was finally able to create his passion project. Though it would’ve been nice if the Academy saw it too.
Swiss Army Man & The Witch – Original Score
Though neither of these films had much going for them politically, both contain some of the most memorable scores of 2016. Swiss Army Man’s inventive use of it’s actors voices to fuel the narrative and create a hilariously beautiful moment was one of the most original uses of music of the year, and The Witch’s unsettling orchestration was key in creating it’s unsettling atmosphere. Though La La Land is going to win, it would have been nice to see something else aside from the usual contenders in this category… except for Passengers – what the heck is that doing there?
Deadpool – Makeup & Hairstyling
Was it too much to ask that Deadpool be an Oscar-nominated picture? Would that have just been too cool to ask of you, Academy? Were their “for your consideration” ads just too funny for you? Instead, we live in a world where Suicide Squad is an Oscar-nominated picture, and Deadpool is not. God damnit.