Let’s Talk About the Oscar Nominations

The big surprises - pleasant and otherwise - in this morning's Academy Award nominations.

Well, after all those months of prognostication and prediction, the nominees have been announced for the 90th annual Academy Awards, and folks, they’re pretty good. The Shape of Water led the way with a mind-boggling 13 nominations (it’s one of those movies that’s technically astonishing and great in general, so it did well in both halves of the nominations), with Dunkirk picking up eight nods (see previous parenthetical) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri nominated for seven Oscars.

Of course, there are some noteworthy omissions and shocking inclusions – there always are – so before we begin the weeks of obnoxious predictifying, let’s take a look at some of the more controversial nominations, for better and worse.

The best directors
The directing branch is not exactly renowned for its inclusion, which is just one of the reason’s this morning’s batch of Best Director nominees is so remarkable. It includes two people of color (Jordan Peele and Guillermo del Toro), a woman (Greta Gerwig – only the fifth woman to receive that recognition), and then the two white guys (Paul Thomas Anderson and Christopher Nolan), who are themselves nominated for genuinely innovative and interesting work. And that’s the other, even better half of the nomination: all five are great nominees any way you slice it, crafting distinctive, intelligent, and unique films, when they so easily could’ve just added another nomination to Darkest Hour or The Post’s tally. (Or Three Billboards’; the lack of a Best Director nomination for Martin McDonagh could mean that film isn’t as much of a Best Picture front-runner as anticipated.) Also, as was pointed out to this writer on Twitter, this appears to be the first time in Oscar history that all five nominated directors also wrote or co-wrote the film they’re nominated for.

Dunkirk
Christopher Nolan’s intimate yet sprawling WWII epic did surprisingly well, considering its muted reception from the bellwether awards and a general assumption that its buzz had peaked early (it was released last summer). But it not only nabbed a battery of technical nominations, but nods for Best Director (Nolan’s first, sort of surprisingly) and Best Picture. It was not, however, nominated for screenplay, and that’s fine, actually.

Phantom Thread
It’s also safe to say that no one was expecting such a strong showing for Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest – it’s just too weird, we heard, or came out too late in the season, or wasn’t campaigned properly. Instead, it was nominated for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Score, Best Costume Design (unsurprisingly), and Best Supporting Actress (very surprisingly) for Leslie Manville.

Tiffany Haddish
The only downside to Manville’s nomination is that it knocked out the other dark horse fave: the delightfully funny Miss Haddish, to whom many had pinned their hopes for a Melissa McCarthy/Marisa Tomei-style “comic performances are okay in the supporting categories!” nomination. And it was especially shitty because Haddish was (often hilariously) co-announcing the nominations, so as Andy Serkis didn’t say her name, she got to put on that brave face in real time. Poor form, Oscars.

Get Out
Jordan Peele’s brilliant comic-horror “social thriller” picked up four very big nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor (for Daniel Kaluuya), and Peele’s noms for both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It was one of the year’s best movies, and all of those nominations make sense, but there was some concern that the Academy’s traditional resistance to horror might shut it out. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case – and Peele’s nomination makes him the fifth black Best Director nominee (after John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Steve McQueen, and Barry Jenkins), which, let’s just say it, is a pretty damn low number.

Mudbound
Mudbound also made history from the inclusion perspective, with Rachel Morrison becoming the first woman nominated for Best Cinematography, and Dee Rees only the second black woman nominated for Original Screenplay (after Lady Sings the Blues’ Suzanne de Passe, more than 40 years ago). Add in Mary J. Blige’s Best Supporting Actress nomination and the Original Song nod for “Mighty River,” and you’ve got a pretty good morning for a non-documentary Netflix release – though (as our former EIC Judy Berman noted) they sure could’ve just put it into that tenth Best Picture slot, seeing’s how it was the year’s best film.

I, Tonya
Also missing from the Best Picture slate, semi-surprisingly, was Craig Gillespie’s clever dramatization and examination of the ‘90s tabloid sensation. Margot Robbie and Alison Janney did grab acting nods, and it picked on up for Editing, but that’s it (also no love for this one on the screenplay front).

James Franco
It was a pretty weak year for Best Actor possibilities, so Franco’s wins at the Golden Globes, the Gotham Awards, and the Critics Choice Awards made him seem like a pretty sure thing. Then again, nominations balloting closed on January 12th, and this came out on the 11th. (The Disaster Artist did pick up one nomination, for Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber’s screenplay.)

Denzel Washington
Franco’s omission left room for two-time winner Washington to pick up his eighth nomination for Roman J. Israel, Esq., a film that was, um, not widely loved! And sure, you can grumble about the Academy going for its standbys (see also: Meryl Streep’s Best Actress nomination for The Post), but to this viewer, here’s what’s great about this nomination: it should go to the best performances, not just the best performances in the best movies. The film in question is kinda lousy, but Washington is terrific in it – it’s a marvelously eccentric piece of work, well out of his usual wheelhouse, and worthy of celebration.

Michael Stuhlbarg and Armie Hammer
Christopher Plummer picked up a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his eleventh-hour sub-in performance in All the Money in the World, and he’s very good in it – the only good thing in the movie, frankly – but it feels like a nomination less for his acting work than for the particulars of the achievement. And it really stings when neither of the brilliant Supporting Actor possibilities for Call Me By Your Name were acknowledged. Sure, Plummer is tough and nasty, but I can’t remember a single great moment in that performance, and I can’t get Stuhlbarg’s monologue out of my head. (And the fact that he was also great in The Shape of Water and The Post makes the Stuhlbarg shut-out all the more irritating.)

Holly Hunter and The Florida Project
We’ve spent plenty of time singing the praises of Miss Hunter, who looked like the best bet for a major nomination for The Big Sick. Instead, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani picked up an Original Screenplay nomination for the movie version of their Meet Cute, which is wonderful, and Hunter’s already got an Oscar, so maybe it’s all fine. More disappointing was the near-shutout of Sean Baker’s heartbreaking Florida Project, which only picked up one nomination, for Best Supporting Actor (which Willem Dafoe will probably lose to Sam Rockwell).

The Boss Baby
Sure, its just Best Animated Feature, and yes, it will almost definitely lose to Coco. But to nominate this garbage while ignoring The LEGO Batman Movie is a goddamn crime.

The documentary features
This year’s slate of nominees (Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Faces Places, Icarus, Last Men in Aleppo, and Strong Island) isn’t bad, by any means; they’re all fine, and a couple are actually quite good. But considering what an extraordinary year it was for non-fiction, this is hardly the cream of the crop. The year’s best doc, The Work, wasn’t even on the shortlist (ditto In Transit, The Reagan Show, Nobody Speak, and several other terrific docs); and then most of the best films on the shortlist (LA 92, Ex Libris, Jane, Long Strange Trip, and One of Us) didn’t make the cut. Ah well, at least they didn’t nominate An Inconvenient Sequel.

The full list of nominees is here; they’ll hand out the Oscars on Sunday, March 4.