Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reaction: The 2015 Academy Award Nominations


The nominations for the 2015 Oscars were revealed this morning, and I was surprised by the relative lack of true surprises, if that makes any sense. The only omission that stood out to me as truly jarring and unforeseen was Ridley Scott, a veteran director championed by many throughout the season as a potential winner in that category, missing out for "The Martian". 

As a fan of the film, it was disappointing to see Scott omitted, but there were some definite silver linings, namely that "Room" director Lenny Abrahamson scored a suprise nomination (filling the slot many presumed would go to Scott) for directing one of the best films of 2015. I have also been championing "The Martian" as a great achievement of writing (equally, if not more so, than as an achievement of directing), so it was delightful to see Drew Goddard edge his way into a very competitive Adapted Screenplay category. 

Again though, his inclusion in the category likely came at the expense of Aaron Sorkin, who failed to receive a nomination for the best script of the year with "Steve Jobs". That omission especially stings as he likely missed out because the film was tainted by its fumbling at the Box Office. In fact, "Steve Jobs" only registered with the actors, scoring expected and deserved nominations for Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet.

I was happy to see "The Revenant" do so well, leading the field with 12 nominations. The film (which just recently won the Golden Globe for Best Drama) appears to be surging, and I was happy to see that Tom Hardy got swept up in that surge. Hardy, who has failed to gain nominations at the precursors for his great supporting turn in the film, budged his way into a crowded Supporting Actor category. 

His nomination likely came at the expense of Idris Elba (more on the lack of diversity issue later), but my biggest disappointment in this category was that it was Mark Ruffalo, and not Michael Keaton, representing "Spotlight". It has one of the oddities of the season that Keaton, who came so close to winning for "Birdman" last year, wasn't able to cash in on his recent goodwill and score a nomination (and potential win) for his acclaimed turn in the film that's most likely to win Best Picture this year. While I'm usually a fan of Ruffalo, I found his performance in "Spotlight" surprisingly unsatisfying. Keaton, who's truly the heart and soul of the film, would have been a more deserving nominee, in my humble opinion. 

However, I was delighted to see that nominated alongside Ruffalo amongst the "Spotlight" ensemble was Rachel McAdams in Best Supporting Actress. I predicted early on in the season that she would receive a nomination for the film, but it was far from a given that that would actually occur until this morning. Many doubted if her subtle performance would register strongly enough with voters, so I was very happy to see that it did.

While I was disappointed to see that Alicia Vikander failed to translate her recent string of nominations for her brilliant work in "Ex Machina" into an Oscar nod (she was instead nominated in Supporting Actress for "The Danish Girl"), I was happy to see the film pick up a widely deserved nomination for Alex Garland's terrific original screenplay.

Meanwhile in the below the line categories, both "The Revenant" and "Mad Max: Fury Road" were predictably dominant, but their were some pleasant surprises as well. While it was a shame that Michael Giacchino missed out on a nom for his "Inside Out" score, Johann Johannsson was an unexpected but utterly deserving nominee  for his moody "Sicario" score. That film, one of my favorites of the year, also picked up a nomination for Best Sound Editing.

Now, to one of the more controversial aspects of the nominations, the lack of diversity amongst the acting nominees. While there were several high-profile, acclaimed performances by minority actors this year (Michael B. Jordan in "Creed", Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation", Benicio del Toro in "Sicario", ect.), none of that translated into any Oscar nominations for actors of color. This was a significant talking point the previous year, when the same thing happened, and already the #AllWhiteOscars hashtag is making its rounds on twitter.

The lack of diversity amongst the acting nominees is unquestionably reflective of a larger problem, but I think what the problem actually is seems to get lost in the shuffle of the internet outrage. It's easy to aim the criticisms of this squarely at the Academy, who are routinely criticized as nothing more than a collection of "old white men". I believe that criticism does help to maintain some perspective on their choices, but it also unfairly paints the Academy as a monolithic body who make all of their choices in a vacuum. In reality, these nominations are reflective of a wide range of opinions and perspectives, and the lack of diversity in these nominations is more reflective of a larger problem in Hollywood. 

It's unfair to expect somebody to put Michael B. Jordan on their Oscar ballot if the genuinely believe there were five other performances by white actors that they preferred to his, even if they liked his performance. That is akin to tokenism and does nothing to solve the larger problem of diversity and the scarcity of roles for actors of color in Hollywood. We shouldn't be surprised that so often no actors of color are represented by the Oscars in a given year when there are so fewer high profile roles for minority actors even in the conversation. The way this problem gets solved is by having a greater diversity of roles for actors of color in a given year, which means more filmmakers of color given the opportunity to share their perspectives and tell their stories. 

In that vein, one significant improvement from last year's nominations is the inclusion of several female writers in the screenplay categories, most notably Emma Donahue for "Room" and Phyllis Nagy for "Carol". Last year, the academy failed to nominate a single script written by a woman, so four women overall amongst the nominees in those categories is a marked improvement.

Overall, I'm fairly pleased with today's nominations, with every one of my favorite films of the year receiving at least one nomination (not sure if that's ever happened before). Over the coming weeks, I'll be writing up break downs for each of the categories.

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