Let’s be honest — some of this year’s Oscar nominations are giddy. It’s as if the Academy voters took a look at the Golden Globe winners and said, “Let’s double that, because anything they can do we can do better.”
I love La La Land for its sweet lead actors its compelling blend of stardust and workaday mundanity, and its fabulous song and dance numbers. I hope it wins a stack of Oscars. But it isn’t a masterpiece by any means. Its 14 nominations are deserved on a case-by-case basis, but somehow the parts are worth more than the sum. It doesn’t have the aura of a history-maker, but it’s now become one.
Fourteen feels excessive given that trenchant, sobering dramas like Martin Scorsese’s Silence and Pablo Larrain’s Jackie have come up short. Silence‘s sole nomination was for Cinematography but, disgracefully, it wasn’t nominated for Best Director or Best Editing. Jackie received nominations for Actress in a Leading Role (Natalie Portman), Costume Design, and Score. It’s a huge anomaly that it missed out on a Best Picture nod. Mel Gibson’s nominated Hacksaw Ridge — a cleverly crafted but disturbing celebration of military savagery that masquerades as a pacifistic film — has pulled the wool over a lot of voters’ eyes.
La La Land’s popular acclaim may be partially a reflection of the post-election moment. People turn to escapism in dark times, and La La Land unquestionable offers balm — at least in its first two thirds. On the face of it, Silence and Jackie are too intellectually demanding and emotionally draining respectively for Academy voters in their current mood. Yet Kenneth Lonerghan’s Manchester by the Sea — a universally respected film of Chekhovian depressiveness — did make the Best Picture frame and was nominated in five categories in all. (This argues that Lonerghan’s 2011 masterpiece Margaret, though mishandled on release, should have got six nominations at least.)
The good news is that — after two shameful years of ignoring African-American cinema — the Academy has redeemed itself by nominating Fences, Moonlight, and Hidden Figures in the Best Picture category. Seven black actors were nominated — though Taraji P. Henson should have been honored in the Supporting Actress group alongside her Hidden Figures co-star Octavia Spencer, Moonlight‘s Naomie Harris, and Fences‘ Viola Davis, who is the most likely winner. Dev Patel’s Supporting Actor nomination for his performance in Lion makes him the third actor of Indian descent following Merle Oberon and Ben Kingsley to be Oscar-nominated.
The list of Best Actress has upset expectations. Amy Adams (Arrival) and Annette Bening (20th Century Women) were considered shoo-ins a month ago, but were both overlooked — what will they have to do to bring home Oscars? Make them? Meryl Streep edged one of them out with her twentieth nomination. Given that her performance in Florence Foster Jenkins isn’t one of her subtlest, one suspects her withering denunciation of Donald Trump in her Golden Globes speech factored into her nomination.
The Oscars have now given Streep a podium to offer a variation on her Globes speech — most likely as a presenter than as a winner — on February 26. That alone makes the Oscar telecast an exciting prospect — along, of course, with another of Casey Affleck’s wonderful tell-it-like-it-is acceptance speeches. He must surely win the Best Actor statuette for his performance in Manchester by the Sea, and it couldn’t go to a more un-Hollywood guy.
Finally, Michael Shannon’s Supporting Actor nomination for his portrayal of the ailing detective in Nocturnal Animals is richly deserved. His fellow cast-member Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who won the equivalent Golden Globe, wasn’t Oscar-nominated at all, which only goes to show how screwy awards competitions are.
The Oscar nominations are listed here.