When I watched the announcement of the Academy Awards yesterday morning, I was first struck by the shocking omission of Ridley Scott as Best Director for The Martian. But then again, I am a white guy. As the day progressed, the big story was the total absence of people of color in the acting nominees for the second straight year. This drew a hue and cry from many quarters.
It seemed extra cruel that two movies about black America, Creed and Straight Outta Compton, each received one nomination--which went to white people (although, why didn't the Compton producers get black writers?) Though I certainly understand the outrage about this, I think that this is pretty trivial in the long run, especially when considering other things that affect the black community, like high incarceration rates, police brutality, and unemployment.
Before I sound like Bill O'Reilly, let me explain. The problem with so-called snubs is that people usually don't have the guts to say who shouldn't be nominated. The vacuous mannequins on Access Hollywood bemoaned that Will Smith should have been nominated for Concussion, but didn't say who he should replace. It's easy to say someone was screwed, but back it up and say who took their place improperly.
Secondly, the Academy Awards are selected by 6,000 people in the movie business, who hardly represent the pulse of America. Attempts have been made to make the membership more diverse, but what exactly does this mean? If there were more black members, Straight Outta Compton would have been nominated for Best Picture, because black people will automatically like it? Black people can't like Brooklyn? Also, what people protesting seem to be calling for is some kind of quota. If the voters didn't like Will Smith (I haven't seen the film, but judging by the trailer the performance is typically overwrought Smith), so be it. Maybe I'm naive, but I doubt voters checked in with each other and said, "Don't vote for any black people."
The problem is that there isn't more films written, directed, and featuring black people. If someday a larger percentage of films are about black people, made by black people, then the nominations will certainly increase. When most black films seem to be starring Kevin Hart or directed by Tyler Perry, well, don't hold your breath on the Oscars.
Okay, so what else did we learn from the nomination reveal? The Revenant was the big winner, with 12 nominations. But it did not get a screenplay nomination, which hurts it's Best Picture chances. Same with the next highest nominee, Mad Max: Fury Road. I love all the love it got, considering it's a sci-fi car movie, the fourth in its series (the last of which was thirty years ago) and it ended up being my favorite movie of the year. But it won't win Best Picture.
The rest of the Best Picture nominees were predictable, with Spotlight and The Big Short the only movies that are lined up for the win: they have the necessary director, screenplay, at least one acting nomination, editing, and a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble.
But back to Scott: when a director is shunned like that, it fucks up a prognosticator. This has happened a few times over the years, and every time the DGA, which is a great bellwethers for Oscar, has responded by giving their award to the passed over guy. This happened in 1985 (Spielberg for The Color Purple), 1995 (Ron Howard for Apollo 13), and 2012 (Ben Affleck for Argo). The shunned guy wins the DGA, leaving the Oscar race wide open. Although only in 2012 did the picture actually win the Oscar, which means if Scott wins the DGA it doesn't mean The Martian will win Best Picture. In fact, I think The Martian's chance are slim and none.
The other big story of the morning was Sylvester Stallone getting the call for Creed (instead of director Ryan Coogler or co-star Michael B. Jordan). He got a big hand at the announcements from the press, and a great reception when he won his Golden Globe. Will he win? I think so--but voters will have to hold their noses and overlook all the schlock he's done over the years. Also, buzz is that he's not a warm and cuddly guy. Should an Oscar go to the man who made Stop, or My Mom Will Shoot?
A few bits of trivia: Stallone sets the record for the longest gap between nominations for playing the same character, 39 years. He joins Paul Newman (Fast Eddie Felson), Peter O'Toole (Henry II), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth I) and Al Pacino (Michael Corleone) as performers nominated twice for the same character. In Best Original Score, we have two octogenarians: Ennio Morricone, who has never won an Oscar in competition, gets nominated for The Hateful Eight at age 87, a record in this category, and John Williams, 83, gets his fiftieth individual nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens!
Speaking of score, also in this category is Thomas Newman, for Bridge of Spies. This is his fourteenth nomination, and he has yet to win. Also in the bridesmaid category is Roger Deakins, who just picked up his 14th nomination for lensing Sicario, and he is also without a win. Below the line talent don't generally get sentimental votes, because their names are not on the ballot, just the movie.
In the younger person arena, Jennifer Lawrence just got her fourth nomination by the age of 25, a record (previously held by Natalie Wood). Lawrence may be the new Meryl Streep, getting nominated for anything, even a movie, like Joy, that got tepid reviews, or at least the new Kate Winslet or Cate Blanchett, who each picked up their seventh nominations.
Things to look for on Oscar night: two directors have won in back-to-back years, John Ford (1940-41) and Joseph Mankiewicz (1949-50). However, no director has helmed back-to-back Best Pictures, and Alejandro G. Innaritu has a chance at both. His cinematographer, Emmanuel Luzbecki, stands a very good chance at winning his third Oscar in a row, which would be a record for the category. Oh, and for the first time in god knows when, Harvey Weinstein could not get a film nominated for Best Picture.
So, start guessing at how Chris Rock will skewer the Academy for their whiteness, send Harvey your condolences, and root for upsets and controversy to make the evening tolerable.