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Are Oscar Nominations Overcompensating for Hollywood’s Bad Behavior?

"We're trying, folks, we're really trying…."

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For masochists who rose by 5:30 a.m. yesterday to be greeted by the chirpy duo of Andy Serkis and Tiffany Haddish – the stars of War for the Planet of the Apes and Girls Trip, respectively, both longshots for nominations they didn’t receive – the vibe of the 90th Academy Award nominations announcements was OVERCOMPENSATION. Smiles strained as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences demonstrated its commitment to be inclusive of women and people of color (and, I guess, motion caption artists). Credit to the new and marginally more diverse Academy: they’re trying, they’re really trying.

Some major indicators of this swing toward inclusiveness were manifest in the success of two films by first-time directors Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele. Both received director nominations supported by their respective films – Lady Bird and Get Out – making the list of nine nominees for Best Picture. Both these directors will now be able to command a bigger quote with Oscar-nominee attached to their names. And the hope is that, as they continue their careers boosted by this honor, the pair will open doors to other women and people of color (and, hey, folks with senses of humor).

The Academy overlooked Dee Rees, an experienced gay woman of color whose brilliant ensemble period piece on Southern race relations, Mudbound, failed to gain traction in the top nine – although Rees did receive recognition in the adapted screenplay category with her co-writer Virgil Williams. And, notably, her cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, became the first woman to get a nomination in that category. Ever. Shout-out also to Mary J. Blige for her supporting nod in a transformative role as a strong-as-oak matriarch.

The other indicator that the times are changing is the softness of what should have been considered one of the year’s gold-plated dramas – Steven Spielberg’s up-with-journalism drama The Post about the fight to publish the Pentagon Papers co-starring A+++-listers Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. While The Post wastes a slot in the top nine, the perennially nominated, three-time winner Spielberg didn’t even get his usual Spielberg director nom.

While Streep got the fifth spot in the Best Actress category, it’s unlikely she’ll triumph over Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) or Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water). Streep is no longer unbeatable and Hanks, who I predicted would be nominated for Best Actor, sacrificed his slot to the brilliant Denzel Washington in the otherwise un-nominated Roman J. Israel Esq. and/or Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya. Sorry, James Franco, but it may just be that the field is overcrowded or your #metoo scandal has scratched your nomination for The Disaster Artist.

The nominations (included below in full) demonstrate strength for the three frontrunners – The Shape of Water with 13 nominations, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk with 8 (but none in acting categories) and Three Billboards with 7. Billboards showed relative weakness by failing to earn a director nom for Martin McDonagh (go figure!) in one of the day’s biggest snubs, recognizing him only for Original Screenplay. But, with the Screen Actors Guild Best Ensemble Award and the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in the rearview mirror, and three acting nominations (Best Actress and the two Supporting Actors Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson), this might not be a total death sentence for the movie’s Best Picture hopes. The backlash about its empathetic treatment of Rockwell’s violent white policeman, who defenestrates a gay character on camera and has allegedly tortured a black prisoner off, does not seem to have impacted it on nomination day.

One film that has come out incredibly strong is Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Phantom Thread starring perennial winner Daniel Day-Lewis in what he claims to be his last role. The film got a muscular six nominations for Best Director, Best Actor, Lesley Manville as Best Supporting Actress as well as Best Original Music Score and Best Costume Design. It’s a stunning achievement but I confess to being repulsed by the first hour’s lesson in the artist grooming his much younger muse despite the plot’s ultimate, allegedly female-forward, twist.

However, when the Best Picture winner is ultimately chosen favorites with female-driven narratives like The Shape of Water or Three Billboards, or even the longshot Lady Bird, will likely short-circuit the male-dominated contenders such as Dunkirk and The Darkest Hour. For poor Nolan, who seemed to be favored for Best Director by making a popular and sweeping war movie, and having the air of ‘he’s overdue,’ in this year that favors inclusion when nothing is as inevitable as it once seemed he may have to wait even longer for his honors.

What we can say definitively is that 2018 is a watershed year at the Oscars, a time of change and reckoning if not complete transformation. The nominations reflect this shift and my primary hope is that the pendulum does not swing too far, rewarding movies that are P.C. rather than perfection (the idea of which is, in itself, subjective). The Oscars ultimately reflect the films that are in the production pipeline – and, as we are seeing currently at the Sundance Film Festival – there is a rise of films directed by women and people of color.

The proof of real and lasting change will unfold in the future; for now, we’ve seen real progress reflected in the nominations for the 90th Annual Academy Awards. Jimmy Kimmel will host the ceremony that will be broadcast live Sunday, March 4th on ABC.

The Full List of Nominees

Best Picture
Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread
Greta Gerwig, Lady Bird
Jordan Peele, Get Out

 Best Actor
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me by Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel Esq. 

Best Actress
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Meryl Streep, The Post 

Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Woody Harrelson, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 

Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird 

Adapted Screenplay
Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist
Logan
Molly’s Game
Mudbound

 Best Original Screenplay
The Big Sick
Get Out
Lady Bird
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards

Animated Feature
The Boss Baby
The Breadwinner
Coco
Ferdinand
Loving Vincent

Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman
The Insult
Loveless
Of Body and Soul
The Square 

Best Documentary
Abacus
Faces Places
Icarus
Last Men in Aleppo
Strong Island

 Best Cinematography
Blade Runner 2049, Roger Deakins
Darkest Hour, Bruno Delbonnel
Dunkirk, Hoyte van Hoytema
Mudbound, Rachel Morrison
The Shape of Water, Dan Laustsen

Best Costume Design
Beauty and the Beast
Darkest Hour
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Victoria and Abdul

Film Editing
Baby Driver
Dunkirk
I, Tonya
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards

 Makeup and Hairstyling
Darkest Hour
Victoria and Abdul
Wonder

Original Score
Dunkirk
Phantom Thread
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Three Billboards 

Original Song
“Mighty River,” Mudbound
“Mystery of Love,” Call Me by Your Name
“Remember Me,” Coco
“Stand Up for Something,” Marshall
“This Is Me,” The Greatest Showman 

Production Design
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water

 Sound Editing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi 

Sound Mixing
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Visual Effects
Blade Runner 2049
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Kong Skull Island
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War for the Planet of the Apes

Documentary (Short Subject)
Edith+Eddie, Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Frank Stiefel
Heroin(e), Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon
Knife Skills, Thomas Lennon
Traffic Stop, Kate Davis, David Heilbroner 

Short Film (Animated)
Dear Basketball, Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
Garden Party, Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
Lou, Dave Mullins, Dana Murray
Negative Space, Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata
Revolting Rhymes, Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer

Short Film (Live Action)
DeKalb Elementary, Reed Van Dyk
The Eleven O’Clock, Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
My Nephew Emmett, Kevin Wilson, Jr.
The Silent Child, Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
Watu Wote/All of Us, Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen