Breaking Down the Oscar Nominations

Another year, another round of nominations that, for better or worse, reflects the state of the film industry.

But before I jump into my personal opinions, let’s take a logical analysis of this morning’s picks and how the race is looking from this side of the nominations.

Aside from a few surprises and one or two rather shocking results, this pretty much went as expected.

The Good:

  • Straight Outta Compton received a nod for Best Original Screenplay, its only nomination
  • Lenny Abrahamson was recognized for Room, one of the best (and in my opinion, most deserved) surprises of the day
  • Some well-deserved newbies received nods in the screenplay races, including Alex Garland for Ex-Machina (original) and Emma Donoghue (adapted)
  • Lots of love for Mad Max: Fury Road, (with 10 nods, it comes in second only to The Revenant‘s 12) proving that action films can still compete with the arthouse dramas

The Bad:

  • No Best Picture nod for the critically acclaimed Carol or its director Todd Haynes
  • No Ridley Scott for Best Director for The Martian
  • Both Sorkin and Tarantino left out of Best Adapted Screenplay (perhaps not so surprising when looking at their box office reception / controversial backlash, respectively)
  • Most shocking, in my humble opinion, was the omission of “See You Again” from Fast and Furious 7 from the Best Original Song category, a memorable and massive hit that will be sorely missed from this year’s performances

So what does this all mean?

For the Best Picture race, it seems like it will come down to four films: SpotlightThe Big ShortThe Revenant, and Mad Max. All four share Best Director and Best Film Editing nods, without which a film rarely wins the big prize. Though it should be noted that the actors branch makes up the largest voting block, possibly giving an edge to The Revenant and Spotlight (both with two acting noms). From another perspective, The Big Short and Spotlight are both nominated for the SAG Best Ensemble award, which is a key indicator to the Academy’s eventual pick. And perhaps most telling, The Revenant and Mad Max did not receive screenplay noms — only seven films in 87 years has won without one (and in the past 50 years, only Titanic holds this claim to fame).

As for the Best Actor / Best Supporting Actor races, there might not be too much guesswork. Leonardo DiCaprio is all but a sure bet for the win, though he shouldn’t get too comfortable. While his competition is relatively weak, I wouldn’t count out Cranston or Damon for an upset. Best Supporting is less of a sure thing — Tom Hardy was a definite surprise, but this will probably come down to Stallone versus Ruffalo.

Now the Best Actress races were interesting. It still seems likely that Best Actress will come down to Brie Larson or Saorsie Ronan. Though I (begrudgingly) wouldn’t count out Jennifer Lawrence. And Charlotte Rampling and Cate Blanchett are both talented and respected veterans who should never be taken lightly. For Best Supporting Actress, I would give the edge to Alicia Vikander and Rooney Mara, though this is another competitive category with a host of talented women who could take the win — Rachel McAdams is the only one in this category coming from a Best Picture nominated film, and Kate Winslet is nothing if not an Academy favorite.

Of course this is all preliminary — as SAG, DGA, PGA and Critics Choice results come in these races will hopefully become much clearer (or more unpredictable! because why not! who knows! what a time!)

Okay. Now for the more serious discussion. This is the second year in a row that the Academy has given all twenty acting nominations to white actors. And with the exception of Alejandro G. Iñarritu, the director’s race isn’t any better.

Has this been discussed ad nauseum? Yes. Considering the Academy’s demographic and track record, should we be surprised? Maybe not. Do we still need to talk about it? Abso-fucking-lutely.

You may ask why this matters. The bottom line is that the worlds we see on screen rarely represent the communities we see in our daily lives. There are voices that aren’t being heard, stories that aren’t being told. And when they are told, they are rarely recognized.

And it’s important to critically analyze why. Voters will go for what they relate to — it’s no surprise that when a voting group is made up of primarily straight white men, queer cinema and films about women might get overlooked. So we need to diversify that membership to be more reflective of the incredibly talented minority professionals in the industry (something the Academy, under President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, is definitely working towards).

However, it’s important to note that there are two ways to become an Academy member:

  • You must be sponsored by at least two members from your branch
  • Or, if you are nominated for an Academy Award, you are automatically considered for membership (no need to go through sponsorship process)

It’s also no surprise that people lend their support to those who remind them of themselves. So if a branch is primarily made up of one demographic, it’s more likely that its members will sponsor professionals similar to them.

And if these professionals are the ones rising through the ranks and making connections and given opportunities to make movies, then it in turn becomes harder for others to break through and receive nominations on their own merits.

My point is the Oscar nominations aren’t the issue — they are simply reflective of a deeper, systemic problem in the world of making movies.

2015 was a remarkable year for diversity in filmmaking. From Creed to Carol to Tangerine to Beasts of No Nation to Straight Outta Compton, there is no shortage of performances and achievement in filmmaking to commend. Lately, I’ve been trying to avoid using the term “snub” — there’s no big conspiracy here. But when you follow the conversation all year and notice those movies getting the same (if not more) praise as the rest, and then look at the nominations and see none of them there, it’s important to ask why.

It’s important to ask why the only nomination for Straight Outta Compton, a movie directed by a respected Black director and starring Black actors, is for its white screenwriters (especially when it’s been featured heavily in other award circuit precursors, such as the SAG Best Ensemble).

It’s important to ask why Rocky got the only nomination for a film about Apollo Creed’s son (especially considering the film was a critical favorite, lauding both Ryan Coogler’s direction and Michael B. Jordan’s performance).

It’s important to ask why Carol failed to garner Best Picture and Best Director nominations (especially when, according to Metacritic, it was the most critically acclaimed movie of the year).

My point is that this is not a matter of forcing diversity. This is not a matter of checking off boxes to fill a progressive agenda. There are deserving candidates everywhere you look, enough to make up for the difference of opinions that come into play when talking about something as subjective as film.

To end on a positive note, this year did offer hope. The Best Picture race recognized a number of female-driven stories (Brooklyn, Room, even the feminist epic that is Mad Max). Women also held their own in the Film Editing category (it should be noted — hell it should be shouted from the rooftops — that the two editors for Star Wars, the year’s biggest hit, are both women).

But when it comes to the directors and the actors and even the technical awards, we still have a long way to go in recognizing the wealth of talent of females and non-whites.

It’s going to take a long time for the changes that have recently been put in place by the Academy to start taking hold. It’s not something that will happen overnight. Little victories are important and should continue to be called out and celebrated. But it’s just as important to continue this conversation until we can look at the state of the industry and see our own world reflected back at us.

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4 responses to “Breaking Down the Oscar Nominations

  1. Hello tiny friend!

    Great write up! This season has definitely been all over the place, and I think you summed it up really nicely. I have a few responses and thoughts to what you’ve put here, but for the most part I want to say that I think you’re spot on.

    Just a few things:

    You mention the critical reception of Steve Jobs and The Hateful Eight as reasons why Tarantino and Sorkin didn’t get writing nods wasn’t such a huge surprise, but both movies received glowing reviews, and Sorkin’s script was singled out for praise time and time again. I think the bigger issue for Jobs was the financial underperformance, which framed it as a flop for more voters, and whether it’s fair or not, I think Tarantino suffered as a result of the controversial political comments he made throughout the voting period.

    “See You Again” missing out wasn’t a terribly huge surprise for me. The Music branch of the Academy is notoriously insular and idiosyncratic, and it seems like every year there’s a high profile song by a big pop star that doesn’t get in (think Taylor Swift for The Hunger Games). We can argue about whether its deserving or not, but the fact that it missed isn’t too surprising to me.

    As far as predictions for the acting categories are concerned, I agree that the frontrunners as of now are (ur bb) Leo, Larson/Ronan, and Mara/Vikander. For supporting actor though, the way I see it the category will come down to Stallone and Rylance. Ruffalo wasn’t a sure thing for a nomination, and things can change in the second stage of campaigning, but Rylance is a legendary stage actor, well respected in the acting community, and walked away with most of the critics’ awards this season. Plus he’s in a Best Picture nominee. I think given his credentials, he’s the biggest challenger to Stallone’s comeback narrative.

    I don’t have much more to add on the diversity front. You pretty much covered it all, or I already addressed it in my post earlier. I will say though, that you don’t automatically become a member of the Academy if you’re nominated. Invitations are often extended to first time nominees and almost always to first time winners, but there have definitely been cases that I remember in the recent past where invites come a few years after a person’s first nomination.

    Can’t wait to spend the next month arguing with you about favorites and predictions! You’re going down.

    • Hello friend!! Thanks for the comment 🙂 as always, your insight is much needed and very appreciated.

      You are correct in your Sorkin / Tarantino observation — I meant to make note of Steve Jobs’ less than stellar box office reception and the critical backlash from Tarantino’s comments. But of course typing too fast got my thoughts all mixed up. I don’t know if I’d agree that both films got “glowing” reviews, but to be sure (at least in Sorkin’s case) the scripts were the strong points.

      About “See You Again” — my surprise definitely stemmed from the my personal opinion that it was more deserving, but I did find it strange that the Academy didn’t take the chance to honor Paul Walker, regardless of how mainstream the song or the movie was.

      Interesting point about Rylance — my reasoning is precisely that he’s such a legend in the theater world rather than the film world that Hollywood might be more inclined to go with Ruffalo, a rising favorite in the past few years (not to mention the absence of his Spotlight co-stars in the category who were all vying for spots). And to your point, both Rylance and Ruffalo are in Best Pic nominees and Ruffalo’s film is arguably one of the frontrunners.

      And I should clarify, if you are nominated for an Academy Award you actually are automatically considered for membership (aka don’t need to go through sponsorship process). Again, typing too fast got me too excited.

      Made some minor edits to the post to reflect your corrections and clarify some of my thoughts so thank you!

      So excited to celebrate another awards season with you. IT IS ON.

  2. Glowing definitely more accurately characterizes Steve Jobs (85% RT) than The Hateful Eight (73% RT), but I think it’s still fair to say that both were critically respected. I think we can agree that other factors external to the films’ quality affected their reception by the Academy though.

    I see where you’re coming from with See You Again – I definitely had a few moments this season where my own preferences clouded my predictive judgment – but I would never have expected the Academy to take a moment outside the memoriam reel to recognize Paul Walker. It’s not like he ever got Oscar’s attention – why start now?

    You make some compelling points about Ruffalo, and I agree he’s a dark horse for all the reasons you mentioned, but I think most people underestimate what a huge deal Rylance is in the acting world. He’s not a household name by any means, but I think he’ll get a lot of industry support, and it’s a strong performance in a BP nominee. I think he’s got an equal or greater shot compared to Ruffalo. And then, of course, there’s Sly.

  3. Pingback: January 2016 Movie Roundup | dany vasquez·

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