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.
- 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
- 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: Spotlight, The Big Short, The 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.