The Oscar nominations for the films of 2016 were announced this past Tuesday, and there’s a lot to talk about in regard to the field of nominees. After a slow start, 2016 quickly turned into a phenomenal year of film. Independent films displayed why that sphere is still home to the most innovative, original and true storytelling. Despite the fact that most blockbusters failed critically and commercially, the few that didn’t proved to be spectacular. The Oscar-season pictures offered both incredible entertainment and suspense but also offered an impact on the state of representation in Hollywood.
And it seems as though the Oscars got it mostly right. There aren’t too many snubs and the variety of films recognized is commendable.
Snubs and disappointments
The word “snub” has been thrown around far too often, diluting the true definition. A snub occurs when a film/actor not nominated is, by majority consensus, “better” than at least one of the nominees. So while the absence of Amy Adams for her heartbreaking performance in “Arrival” is, well, heartbreaking, the five nominees all have valid and supported arguments for their inclusion.
Interestingly enough, there might not be any snub this year. An argument can be made that a few directors — Martin Scorsese for “Silence,” David Mackenzie for “Hell or High Water” and Tom Ford for “Nocturnal Animals” — were snubbed in favor of Mel Gibson for “Hacksaw Ridge.” I, myself, vehemently agree that Mel shouldn’t be anywhere near this award. But many don’t. And if we adhere to the definition of a snub, it turns into a slippery slope to call the omission of any of those three directors a snub considering that many think Gibson deserves to be there.
The closest to a snub may be the omission of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in the category of sound editing. For those who don’t know, sound editing, in simple terms, involves the creation and design of sounds. The other category, sound mixing, is how every single sound is laid out in a film’s landscape. With that said, the nomination for “La La Land” in sound editing is a headscratcher. Did they have a hard time creating those car horns and tap dance sounds? Its nomination in mixing is a no brainer and even threatens to win. But going back to sound editing, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” in its creation of intergalactic sounds, was poised to receive a nomination. It’s a fair point for those who say that the team didn’t have to create many new sounds considering the library of “Star Wars.” Even so, “The Jungle Book,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” “Doctor Strange” and a few more had great arguments for sound editing nominations.
As far as disappointments go, Amy Adams tops the list. As I said before, her performance is heartbreaking. If that film didn’t have such a true and palpable soul and heart at the center of it, it might’ve failed. So Adams’ work is nothing short of spectacular and would’ve belonged on the list of Best Actress nominations. Another disappointment comes in regard to “20th Century Women.” Its screenplay nomination is refreshing and wonderful, but the actors could’ve been recognized as well. Annette Bening is utterly sublime as a 1970s single mother struggling to raise her son. Greta Gerwig is raw and lively as a young woman in rebellion of the establishment as she recovers from cancer. Finally, Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” only received one nomination — for Rodrigo Prieto’s astounding cinematography. As said before, Scorsese himself would’ve fit right into that spot occupied by Mel Gibson. But the film also could’ve made rightful appearances in adapted screenplay, supporting actor for Issey Ogata and even Best Picture. Ogata has been deservedly compared to Christoph Waltz’s character in “Inglourious Basterds.” Moreover, I believe that Andrew Garfield’s best performance came in “Silence” and not “Hacksaw Ridge.”
They really got it right
As we approached the Oscars, one actor, who undeniably deserved an Oscar nomination and would be the clear snub were he not included, seemed as though he would be left out of the mix. He missed out on a SAG nomination, a BAFTA nomination and a Broadcast Critics nomination. But come Tuesday morning, the Oscars did justice to Michael Shannon’s performance in “Nocturnal Animals.” Shannon offers one of the most gripping and hilarious turns of the year through his take on the clichéd Western sheriff. But he doesn’t allow the character to be simply a cliché. He not only utilizes a rock-solid accent to accentuate his deadpan humor, but he also instills actual depth within the character and plays off of Jake Gyllenhaal incredibly well. In my ideal world, Shannon would win the supporting actor category — Mahershala Ali will deservedly take this award. But I’ll be more than satisfied with his nomination.
Records and firsts
This year, the Academy nominated seven people of color in the 20 possible acting spots. After two years of entirely white nominees, sparking #OscarsSoWhite, that number is the largest since the 2007 Oscars. Not only that, but this is also the first time that Black actors are nominated in each category. While this is incredibly encouraging and beautiful in respect to the beautiful performances, and they all should be celebrated endlessly, we still have a long way to go in regard to representation.
The 2017 Oscars represented plenty of firsts for African Americans. Barry Jenkins is the first Black writer-director to be nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (adapted). Joi McMillion is the first Black female film editing nominee. And Bradford Young is the first African American to be nominated for cinematography — Remi Adefarasin, nominated for 1998’s “Elizabeth,” is Black British. The Oscars are beginning to recognize Black excellence across all fields.
“La La Land” tied the record for most Oscar nominations with “All About Eve” and “Titanic” at 14. There are some minor blips here and there within those 14. It should not have received a sound editing nomination. While “City of Stars” is the most bankable and commercial song, I would swap that out with the film’s opening number “Another Day of Sun.” And finally, while Ryan Gosling doesn’t not deserve the nomination for Best Actor, nominations for people such as Adam Driver for “Paterson” or Joel Edgerton for “Loving” would’ve been more inspired.
The nine Best Picture nominees are a fascinating slate when considering the context of the United States right now. Four out of the nine are centered around stories of people of color, which is necessary representation. On the other hand, two of the films represent a part of the country and a generation of the United States that were extremely prevalent this past year — old/middle America. “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Hell or High Water” have been resonating with older audiences and people from both the middle of nation as well as, obviously, the South. “Hacksaw Ridge” struggled with problematic representation of the Japanese. But outside of that, the film presents a perspective of those dealing with the war both in battle and at home — a perspective the older generation dealt with. As for “Hell or High Water,” while many on the left have been quick to label anything overtly conservative as “bad,” the film respectfully honors the region and the problems that they face without arguing against anyone. The film even takes aspects of that region that might put some off — racism toward Native Americans — and offers a counter, yet still ideologically adherent/consistent view, to humanize those from that region and eliminate those problems. Whatever anyone may personally think, it seems to be fair, honest and respectable for those films to be recognized.
Overall, the nominees this year are not only all deserving — save for one or two technicals here and there — but also, hopefully, indicative of a rightful shift toward recognizing all perspectives appropriately. The fact that a contemporary, original musical has become this generation’s version of “Titanic” is wonderful. The fact that a sci-fi film that has octopus-knuckle-looking aliens in it — “Arrival” — is nominated for eight awards including Best Picture is spectacular. The fact that a small, personal independent story that is so specific to the Black queer experience, but ends up resonating as universal — “Moonlight” — is nominated for eight awards is tremendous.
I’m grateful for this past year in film.