Contenders to Catch Up On

Contenders to Catch Up On

Oscar season is upon us, but that doesn’t mean the only contenders for 2018 will be released in the next few months. While the majority of nominations and winners get spread out among the fall and winter releases (nine of the last ten Best Picture winners have been released in the October-December window), the rest of the months of the year still have a say in what happens on Oscar night. Get Out, released in February last year, nearly stole this year’s show from Three Billboards and The Shape of Water, released in November and December respectively.

So having already posted the contenders being released in October, I thought I’d look back on the previous nine months and highlight the contenders we need to catch up on. There are several Best Picture contenders, and a lot of long shots. I’ll start with the long shots and end with the contenders for the most awards.

Production note: There aren’t odds out for all the craft awards, so I only included likely nominations and long shots for the categories I care about. Some of these movies will compete for things like Best Score or Best Costume Design, but I’m not focusing on those right now.

01The Death of Stalin (released in March) and Sorry to Bother You (released in July)

Long shots (respectively): Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay

02The Screenplay awards always see a couple of lower-profile movies enter the fray (see: The Big Sick and Molly’s Game from last year). Usually a Best Picture nominee will win, so for these movies, it’s an honor just to be nominated. The Death of Stalin is a comedy about Stalin, which is weird, but it’s directed by Armando Ianucci, who created the Emmy-dominating Veep and was nominated in this category for 2009’s In the LoopSorry to Bother You is a kinetic story about a black telemarketer that discovers that using a white voice gets him far, and it’ll probably end up on a lot of critics’ Top Ten lists in a couple of months. Writer-director Boots Riley has a better chance at a nomination than Ianucci, because Sorry was such a breakout indie hit, but neither should make plans to attend the ceremony just yet.

03First Reformed (released in May)

Long shots: Actor, Original Screenplay

In a perfect world, First Reformed would be the frontrunner for both of these awards with a shot at Best Picture. It is an original, bold work of art, and Ethan Hawke is astounding in it. But it’s also dark and disturbing, and its ending is hard to wrap your mind around. The Actor field is too crowded with performers from true Best Picture contenders, and the most likely dark horse nominees are older actors that voters will think are due, like Willem Dafoe and Robert Redford (see below). Its most likely chance to sneak in is Original Screenplay, if some of the Best Picture contenders have more support in other areas, like if Green Book proves to be more of an acting showcase than a good script.

04The Old Man & the Gun (released in September)

Long shots: Actor, Supporting Actress

Robert Redford has been nominated only once before, for 1973’s The Sting, so it’s fair to say the Academy hasn’t valued his acting chops very highly. That’s a shame, since he’s one of the great movie stars, but The Old Man & the Gun, while supposedly very meta and a tribute to the kinds of movies Redford did in his prime, might be too slight to garner the support he needs for a nomination. Sissy Spacek is an even longer shot, but love and respect for their careers from the Acting branch may push them both over the edge.

05Hereditary (released in June)

Long shots: Actress, Original Screenplay

Horror movies rarely ever get Oscar love, but it’s not unheard of. In fact, the Best Actress award went to an actress from a horror movie two years in a row in 1990-91 (Kathy Bates for Misery, Jodie Foster for The Silence of the Lambs), so there would be precedent for Toni Collette to get nominated. She certainly deserves it; she takes horror movie acting to an unusually high level. But that field is crowded. After Get Out‘s Original Screenplay win last year, a nomination for Hereditary in that category is a little more likely.

06A Quiet Place (released in April)

Long shots: Picture, Original Screenplay

Again, genre fare is not traditionally recognized well by the Academy. But John Krasinski’s labor of love was a huge hit in the spring, and its story and script are ingeniously structured in a way that could have grabbed voters’ attention. Look for voters to be looking for a way to nominate more popular movies so as to curb the governors’ ill-advised desire for a Best Popular Film category.

07Crazy Rich Asians (released in August)

Long shots: Picture, Supporting Actress

Michelle Yeoh is a respected veteran of world cinema (most famous in America for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and she brings a lot of gravitas to a movie that is largely light. If there’s a surprise nomination in the Supporting Actress category, it will be her. Normally, romantic comedies would not be in play for Best Picture, but the significance of the movie’s all-Asian cast and its surprise hit status make it a player, if an unlikely one.

08Eighth Grade (released in July)

Likely nomination: Original Screenplay

Long shot: Picture

People love this movie. Eighth Grade will likely clean up at the Independent Spirit Awards the night before comedian Bo Burnham’s screenplay is honored just to be nominated at the Oscars. If some of the presumed, yet-to-be-released contenders like Adam McKay’s Vice and Steve McQueen’s Widows don’t play as well as expected, this coming-of-age indie could sneak into the Best Picture slate.

09The Wife (released in August)

Likely nomination: Actress

The Best Actress field is wide open right now. For a while there, Glenn Close was the frontrunner, but A Star Is Born‘s release has changed the game a bit. Close plays the wife of a writer who is being given the Nobel Prize for Literature, though the couple is harboring a secret.

Reviews laud Close’s performance as a career best, which is saying a lot. For anyone that grew up in the ’90s, you may only know her as Cruella de Vil, which is a shame. She was one of the big movie stars of the ’80s, a decade in which she was nominated for five Acting Oscars. She was perhaps most famous for Fatal Attraction, in which she boils a pet rabbit. The ’80s were crazy.

Right now, Close is almost assured a nomination. Her campaign will play the “she’s due” card, which is hard to argue with. Lady Gaga is a force of nature in A Star Is Born, and Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Olivia Colman in The Favourite are right behind them. The race to win will be hard to call, but Glenn Close will definitely get her seventh nomination in January.

10Black Panther (released in February)

Likely nomination: Picture

Long shots: Director, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography

This may seem like wishful thinking. After all, no Marvel movie has been nominated for Best Picture yet. Indeed, no superhero movie has ever been nominated for the big one, which is a great reminder that the Academy thought The Reader was a better movie than The Dark Knight back in 2008. PSA for the Academy: just because a movie uses the Holocaust as part of its plot doesn’t mean it’s a good movie.

Anyway, barring any unforeseen circumstances, Black Panther will land a Best Picture nomination in January. It has no chance of winning, but it’s almost universally beloved as a blockbuster. Also, its technical achievements go beyond special effects to the level of detail given to the costumes, music, and production design, especially for a superhero movie. The support of all the craft guilds, along with the more diverse Academy voting body, should get it in the race.

Other top awards are less likely, but still possible. Director Ryan Coogler is popular, and he has the reputation of a cinematic pioneer within the industry, turning tentpoles into must-see, prestige events. The cinematography is meticulous and beautiful, and the screenplay is remarkably coherent and meaningful. But the best chance Black Panther has at another top award is for Michael B. Jordan’s performance as the movie’s villain. If Sam Rockwell’s turn as George W. Bush in Vice is more caricature than performance, Jordan will take his place and earn his first nomination.

11BlacKkKlansman (released in August)

Likely nominations: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay

Long shots: Actor, Supporting Actor

BlacKkKlansman is the biggest contender that’s already been released this year, which is somewhat surprising. The movie was branded as a comedy, and comedies don’t often get the critical or awards attention they may deserve. And while Spike Lee has the reputation of a directing icon, he’s never been nominated for Best Director. That’s right- they have never nominated the man who directed Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), and 25th Hour (2002), all of which are legitimate contenders for the best movie of their respective decades.

But that should change this year! BlacKkKlansman was a big hit at the Cannes Film Festival in May, winning the Grand Prix, which is effectively second place to the Palme d’Or. It went on to gross $48 million, which makes it the biggest movie Lee has made since 2006’s Inside Man. Not everyone loved it, but I think BlacKkKlansman is the best fiction film he’s made in 20 years (since the pretty great He Got Game).

The movie has a clear message that’s easy to sell to voters: the Klan was bad in the ’80s, and things aren’t much better now. Lee makes some directorial choices that add to this message at the risk of muddying the narrative, but those choices make the film stronger in the end. I’m excited for this movie to get more attention during awards season, because it deserves it.

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October 2018’s Contenders

October 2018’s Contenders

October is the official beginning of Oscar season- meaning the months in which studios (both major and indie) plan movie releases with awards in mind. Most of the movies gunning for awards inclusion have been screened at festivals (Toronto, Telluride, New York, etc.) over the last two months to varying degrees of hype. Only movies released in a theater by December 31st will be eligible for nominations, which will be announced on January 22nd. The ceremony takes place on February 24th.

Some of you couldn’t care less about the Oscars, which is fine. I pay far too much attention to the Oscars, because I think they’re historically a good way to find quality stories I may not have otherwise sought out. I also think the movies that end up getting attention during the Oscar telecast are made by filmmakers who are really going for it, which leads to either momentous or disastrous results.

Anyway, I’m going to embrace the fact that I know too much about the Oscars, and the fact that I included the word “contender” in the name of this blog, and finally devote some space to Oscar predictions and explainers. We’ll start simple and useful- what movies coming out in October will likely be nominated come January? I’ll start with lowest number of likely nominations and end with the highest.

Production note: There aren’t predictions out there for a lot of the craft awards, so I’ve stuck to the categories I care most about. And I’m taking “likely” at face value; there are a lot of movies in the running, but only a few make it to the finish line.

octobercontenders02Beautiful Boy (released wide October 12th)

This looks very depressing, and like the kind of typical Academy Award fare that makes many people skeptical about the Oscars. Steve Carell stars as the father of a young man (Timothée Chalamet) who is stuck in the cycle of addiction and recovery. The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), a major landing ground for awards contenders, to decidedly mixed reviews, though by all accounts the performances are good.

Likely nominations: Supporting Actor.

Chalamet was nominated last year for his breakout turn in Call Me by Your Name, and he seems to be a star that Hollywood wants to anoint. Even though most people didn’t love the movie, Chalamet is the favorite right now to win Best Supporting Actor.

By the way, he’ll be 23 years old on Oscar night, but he won’t be the youngest Supporting Actor winner ever. That honor goes to Timothy Hutton, who won in 1981 for Ordinary People (directed by Robert Redford). Hutton’s best known now for his role on the TNT show Leverage. I’m not convinced this is a real show. He was very good in Ordinary People, when he was 20.

So Chalamet will only be the second youngest performer to win Best Supporting Actor. Should have tried harder earlier, my dude.

Long shots: Picture, Actor, Adapted Screenplay.

The movie probably won’t have enough broad support to factor in the Best Picture race, but that competition is very top-heavy (with RomaA Star Is BornFirst Man, and The Favourite as the co-favorites), so if the Acting Branch of the Academy voters gets behind Beautiful Boy, it could sneak in a field that could be anywhere from five to ten nominees, depending on the weight of the voting.

Carell is getting very good reviews, but the Actor category, as always, is crowded, and Chalamet reportedly steals the show. Beautiful Boy is based on memoirs by a father and son, so if the Writing Branch appreciates the difficulty in adapting these two stories fairly, maybe the screenplay gets nominated.

octobercontenders03Can You Ever Forgive Me? (released wide October 19th)

Melissa McCarthy stars in the based-on-a-true-story story of a biographer who falls on hard times and begins forging rare literary letters. I’m surprised this is receiving as much attention as it is. The trailer (see the link above) does not look like your usual Oscar fare, and there’s no one involved (besides McCarthy, of course) who has a past filled with Academy love. It’s directed by Marielle Heller, who made the well-received The Diary of a Teenage Girl in 2015, and written by Nicole Holofcener, a comedy director with a lot of critic love, but neither has ever been nominated for anything…

Likely nominations: Actress, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay.

…which is probably why the main contenders here are performers. McCarthy was nominated once before for her hilarious breakout role in 2011’s Bridesmaids. Richard E. Grant, a veteran British actor, has never been nominated, but reports are that their chemistry elevates the movie. Also, the script played well at Telluride and Toronto, and it seems like the most likely way Academy voters will honor the movie.

Long shot: Picture.

octobercontenders04First Man (released wide October 12th)

Perhaps best known for a fake controversy surrounding the supposed exclusion of the American flag (which, come on, it’s in the movie), First Man tells the story of Neil Armstrong’s (Ryan Gosling) journey from grief over a lost child to the moon. This seems a little bit been-there-done-that to me, since this is basically the plot of Gravity, but perhaps the true-to-life nature of it all will lift up the material.

Likely nominations: Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography.

My skepticism notwithstanding, First Man looks to clean up in nominations come January. It premiered in Venice in August to great reviews. Director Damien Chazelle (who looks like he’ll help whoever’s next at the Genius Bar) already has an Oscar (he was the youngest ever to win Best Director two years ago at the age of 32), but will likely be nominated again as a producer and director. The action sequences are supposed to be very harrowing, like Dunkirk, but in space. Ryan Gosling impressed in an understated performance as Neil Armstrong, and Claire Foy looks to be playing that role of worried wife that gets the older, male Oscar voters’ dander up every time.

octobercontenders05A Star Is Born (released wide October 5th – today!)

I saw this last night with my wife, Vicky, and I want to make big pronouncements that First Man might clean up with all the nominations but A Star Is Born will clean up with all the wins, but I haven’t even seen First Man and February is a lifetime away. A Star Is Born follows Lady Gaga as Ally, an amateur singer who gets discovered by Bradley Cooper’s country-rock star Jackson Maine. They enter a relationship through their music, and as her star rises, his falls.

This is the fourth time this story has been told under this name- the first starred Janet Gaynor and Fredric March in 1937, the second starred Judy Garland and James Mason in 1954, the third starred Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976. (Why didn’t someone complete the circle by making one in the ’90s, I wonder?) All three were nominated for multiple Oscars, the 1937 version at the most with seven, including Picture, and winning for Original Story, a defunct category.

This version will almost certainly have more than seven nominations.

Likely nominations: Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography.

Lady Gaga isn’t the frontrunner for Best Actress yet- that honor belongs to Glenn Close for something called The Wife. But Gaga will be after this scores big at the box office this weekend and holds well into November. Our screening was packed, and people laughed through the whole movie and cried at the end. The movie is exactly what you expect it to be, but it just works. Unless Black Panther is nominated, it will be the most popular Best Picture nominee by far. Add that to its prestige roots- directed soulfully by Bradley Cooper, who just wanted to make art, dammit- and it deserves to be the frontrunner.

By the way, if Cooper is nominated for both Director and Actor (he will be for Acting; the Directing category is even more stacked- but the Academy loves actors who direct), it will be the 11th time someone has been nominated in both categories for the same film. No one has won both. He’s the Actor frontrunner right now.

The 2018 Academy Awards

The 2018 Academy Awards

Every year is a good year for the movies. Even while certain segments of the blogosphere were declaring the death of cinema while television reached a fever pitch of popularity, there was always a plethora of great movies being made. If you know where to look and pay attention in any given year, you’ll find that the end of movies as a great art form has been greatly exaggerated.

However, sometimes the great movies within a year have a higher profile, and that year seems to be a better year for cinema as a result. 2017 was such a year, and you only have to look at the nominees for Best Picture as evidence. I still haven’t seen a lot of them, but, for my money, there are at least 3 masterpieces (DunkirkGet OutCall Me by Your Name) among the nominees I’ve seen, and, by reputation, 2 or 3 (Lady Bird and maybe The Shape of Water or Phantom Thread) among the ones I haven’t. That’s crazy. Last year, there were maybe 3 (MoonlightArrival, and La La Land and Manchester by the Sea are toss-ups). The year before that there was only 1 (Mad Max: Fury Road).

Your mileage will vary on these movies from mine, and that’s okay. But this was an extraordinary year for movies. You could replace all 7 of the Best Picture nominees with other movies from the top 25 grossers of the year to go with Dunkirk and Get Out, and you’d still have a worthy slate of Oscar contenders. Heck, let’s do it: Star Wars: The Last JediWonder WomanItThor: RagnarokLoganCoco, and Split. There. I mean, none of those would beat Dunkirk or Get Out, but they’re awesome.

Whatever happens Sunday night, 2017 was amazing. Even if both Get Out and Lady Bird get shut out and the internet goes bonkers, it won’t change the fact that 2017 was a particularly good year for movies that are going to be special to people for a long, long time.  Let’s not lost sight of that.

*Indicates a movie I have not seen yet.

Best Picture

Call Me by Your Name
Darkest Hour

Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird*
Phantom Thread*
The Post
The Shape of Water*
Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri*

Will win: The Shape of WaterThree Billboards is right there with Guillermo del Toro’s watery fable, but the backlash against Billboards has been louder. Also, Three Billboards doesn’t have a directing nomination for Martin McDonagh, which would suggest that history is against it. The spoiler is Get Out, which would be awesome, but it only has 4 nominations. Its support is probably mostly from new membership, and it won’t be enough.

Should have been nominated: Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The only Star Wars movie to be nominated for Best Picture was 1977’s A New Hope, and Last Jedi is better. *ducks*

Best Directing

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

Will win: The Shape of Water, Guillermo del Toro. I’m not entirely sure why the narrative here is that “it’s his time,” when this is first directing nomination in his career. But people in Hollywood do love him, and The Shape of Water is a celebration of movie history.

Should have been nominated: Logan, James Mangold. The screenplay is nominated (which is crazy!), but I think Mangold’s direction did the heavy lifting. He had to walk a tightrope of making a character study out of a superhero movie, and it was a huge success.

Best Actor in a Leading Role

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.*

Will win: Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour. It truly is a great performance, though the Academy will give it to Oldman because it’s the biggest performance. This award should be Chalamet’s.

Should have been nominated: James McAvoy, SplitGet Out is probably the closest the Academy was going to come to embracing genre fare, but Split is a tension wire of a movie, and McAvoy’s performance is what keeps it from breaking.

Best Actress in a Leading Role

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

Will win: Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This performance is as much of a shoo-in to win as Oldman’s.

Should have been nominated: Zoe Kazan, The Big Sick. The movie didn’t have quite enough support to garner any acting awards, but Kazan’s performance stuck with me more than almost any other I saw from 2017.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

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*

Will win: Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The acting races just aren’t interesting this year. This is Rockwell’s award to lose.

Should have been nominated: Armie Hammer, Call Me by Your Name. Chalamet getting nominated is a win for the movie, but Hammer’s performance, while less devastating, is just as crucial to understanding the romance at the heart of the movie.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

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

Will win: Allison Janney, I, Tonya. Janney has the lowest odds of all the acting locks, probably because Laurie Metcalf’s performance is so beloved…but Janney’s still a lock.

Should have been nominated: Nicole Kidman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer. This is the second year in the row that a great Yorgos Lanthimos film gets overlooked, as well as its best performance.

Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist*

Logan
Molly’s Game*
Mudbound*

Will win: Call Me by Your Name. It’s the lone Best Picture nominee here, so it’s the frontrunner. It’s also written by James Ivory, who has adapted classics recognized by the Academy for over 30 years. It’s also beautiful.

Should have been nominated: It. Again, the Academy is generally not about genre fare, but if we can get Logan nominated, why not one of the most popular movies of last year, adapted by a best-seller from one of the most popular authors of all time? It was a great horror movie, yes, but it was also a great coming-of-age movie, and making a great coming-of-age movie out of a thousand-page book is quite a feat.

Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

The Big Sick
Get Out

Lady Bird*
The Shape of Water*
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri*

Will win: Get Out. This is the one award Get Out will win. The “old white man” segment of the Academy is severely underrating this movie, but enough members will want the movie to win something, and this is the most logical place at which to make that happen.

Should have been nominated: After the Storm. Writing nominees tend to be pretty white. The Big Sick’s Kumail Nanjiani is only the 5th nominee of Asian descent in Oscar’s history, and the only Asian-language film to be nominated in this category was Letters from Iwo Jima, which is a Clint Eastwood movie. Suffice it to say, a Japanese drama like After the Storm never would have been nominated. But its unlikelihood doesn’t make it right. After the Storm writer Hirokazu Koreeda has a history of getting at the things families never communicate to each other, and this movie is no different.

Best Cinematography

Blade Runner 2049
Darkest Hour

Dunkirk
Mudbound*
The Shape of Water*

Will win: Blade Runner 2049. It’s a beautiful movie to look at. But more importantly, its cinematographer, Roger Deakins, has 14 nominations for The Shawshank RedemptionFargoKundunO Brother, Where Art Thou?The Man Who Wasn’t ThereNo Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford in the same year (!), The ReaderTrue GritSkyfallPrisonersUnbrokenSicario, and now BR 2049, but he has never won. He’s…what’s the word…due.

Should have been nominated: War for the Planet of the Apes. For some reason, the Academy hasn’t recognized the extraordinary achievement that is this franchise. It really shouldn’t have worked- ask Tim Burton- but director Matt Reeves made it work. He made it look good in the process as well, with the help of cinematographer Michael Seresin, who also worked on Dawn.

Best Animated Feature

The Boss Baby*
The Breadwinner*

Coco
Ferdinand*
Loving Vincent*

Will win: Coco. It’s well-deserving, even though I haven’t seen the others, just for its visuals alone.

Should have been nominated: I didn’t see a ton of animated movies this year, but it baffles me that The Boss Baby is on this list over The LEGO Batman Movie.

Best Documentary (Feature)

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail*
Faces Places*

Icarus*
Last Men in Aleppo*
Strong Island*

Will win: IcarusFaces Places has the lowest odds, and it would be kismet with director Agnes Varda winning an honorary Oscar this year. But I find it hard to believe Academy members really get Varda. Icarus is the most accessible of this group, and its the most timely, since it’s about the Russian doping scandal.

Should have been nominated: City of Ghosts, a tense look at refugee activists reporting to the world on the heinous acts ISIS is perpetrating in Syria. Last Men in Aleppo probably siphoned attention away from it.

Foreign Language Film

A Fantastic Woman (Chile)*
The Insult
(Lebanon)*
Loveless (Russia)*
On Body and Soul (Hungary)*
The Square (Sweden)*

Will win: A Fantastic Woman, about a transgender woman struggling with the death of her partner, is the most zeitgeist-y. The Square, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes last year, might squeak by, but it’s pretty weird. A Fantastic Woman is more straightforward.

Should have been nominated: I haven’t even seen the nominees, let alone any foreign-language films that should have been nominated.

The 2017 Academy Awards

The 2017 Academy Awards

I say to my wife almost every year (she probably doesn’t even notice I say it anymore) that the Oscars are my Super Bowl. I’m well aware that the actual show is usually kind of boring. But I’m nonetheless fascinated by what upsets will take place, what winners will say onstage, and who the last tribute will be in the In Memoriam montage. I find a lot of joy in the movies, and I appreciate the Oscars as a celebration of that.

This year, they feel like the Super Bowl in more ways than one. For one, they feel unnecessarily politicized. During the Super Bowl, I fell into the trap of rooting against the Patriots because of Tom Brady’s and Bill Belichick’s ties to President Trump- as if there aren’t myriad other reasons to root against New England. That almost ruined my enjoyment of what ended up being the Pats’ historic comeback.

The Oscar layperson won’t think about this, but anyone following the pre-ceremony hype will have seen thinkpieces aplenty about the supposed La La Land vs. Moonlight rivalry. The two movies are being pitted together much like New England and Atlanta- white vs. black, Trump’s America vs. the Resistance, evil vs. good.

That’s stupid, and frustrating. Both are great movies. Both have zero to do with the politics of our time, at least directly. It would be a stretch to make an argument that either is attempting to participate in current polemics one way or the other.

Moonlight‘s very existence and the attention it is receiving is a political statement within the industry, but that’s about it. Moonlight‘s director, Barry Jenkins, has spoken about the La La Land backlash and clearly respects the art that Damien Chazelle and his team created. The movies exist apart from any faction or political ideology. They are both moving, complex, life-affirming works of art that deserve more than easy narratives.

Narratives aren’t necessarily bad, but in this case they are unnecessary. They make cultural events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl more accessible, and they often add stakes to the proceedings. But tomorrow, forget the political narrative, and just appreciate that whatever wins Best Picture this year will likely be worthy of the distinction.

oscars02

Best Picture

Arrival*
Fences*
Hacksaw Ridge*
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land
Lion*
Manchester by the Sea*
Moonlight

Will win: La La LandMoonlight or Hidden Figures could upset, but movies don’t get 14 Oscar nominations without winning. First time for everything though…

Should have been nominated: Zootopia. Animated movies never get enough respect, but Zootopia deserved a place in the sun.

LLL d 25 _4731.NEF

Best Directing

Arrival, Denis Villeneuve*
Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson*
La La Land, Damien Chazelle
Manchester by the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan*
Moonlight, Barry Jenkins

Will win: La La Land, Damien Chazelle. If the La La Land backlash has retained its full force, Jenkins could upset.

Should have been nominated: Kubo and the Two Strings, Travis Knight. Again, animated movies don’t get their due. The degree of difficulty on a stop-motion movie like Kubo is so high, how is the industry not better about rewarding directors of such movies?

oscars04

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea*
Andrew Garfield, Hacksaw Ridge*
Ryan Gosling, La La Land
Viggo Mortensen, Captain Fantastic*
Denzel Washington, Fences*

Will win: Denzel Washington, Fences. Affleck’s sexual assault will linger in too many minds, and Denzel is too much of a force of nature. He’s given voters enough of an alternative to Affleck to ease their consciences.

Should have been nominated: Colin Farrell, The Lobster. It’s an awkwardly earnest and selfish character that anchors one of the year’s most overlooked movies.

oscars05

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Isabelle Huppert, Elle*
Ruth Negga, Loving*
Natalie Portman, Jackie*
Emma Stone, La La Land
Meryl Streep, Florence Foster Jenkins*

Will win: Isabelle Huppert, Elle. Where there’s an easy way not to vote for La La Land, I think people who believe in the backlash will take it. Huppert is a legend, and many will think it is her last chance to win.

Should have been nominated: Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch. Horror movie acting is probably supposed to be easy, but existential dread isn’t. She did both beautifully in 2016’s breakout horror film.

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water
Lucas Hedges, Manchester by the Sea*
Dev Patel, Lion*
Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals*

Will win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight.

Should have been nominated: Anton Yelchin, Green Room. This isn’t just a reaction to his tragic death. His performance in Green Room is visceral and a career best.

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Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Viola Davis, Fences*
Naomie Harris, Moonlight
Nicole Kidman, Lion*
Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures
Michelle Williams, Manchester by the Sea*

Will win: Viola Davis, Fences.

Should have been nominated: Janelle Monáe, Hidden Figures or Moonlight, take your pick.

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Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

Arrival*
Fences*
Hidden Figures
Lion*
Moonlight

Will win: Moonlight.

Should have been nominated: I dunno…Sully, I guess?

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Best Writing (Original Screenplay)

Hell or High Water
La La Land
The Lobster
Manchester by the Sea*
20th Century Women*

Will win: Manchester by the Sea.

Should have been nominated: Hail, Caesar!

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Best Cinematography

Arrival*
La La Land
Lion*
Moonlight
Silence*

Will win: La La Land.

Should have been nominated: The Witch.

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Best Animated Feature

Kubo and the Two Strings
Moana*
My Life as a Zucchini*
The Red Turtle*
Zootopia

Will win: Zootopia.

Should have been nominated: Eh, nothing I saw.

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Best Documentary (Feature)

13th
Fire at Sea*
I Am Not Your Negro*
Life, Animated*
O.J.: Made in America*

Will win: O.J.: Made in America.

Should have been nominated: Under the Sun.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Land of Mine (Denmark)*
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)*
The Salesman (Iran)*
Tanna (Australia)*
Toni Erdmann (Germany)*

Will win: The Salesman.

Should have been nominated: Microbe & Gasoline (France).

The 2016 Academy Awards

Soooo last year I wrote this:

“The big story this year with the Oscars is the lack of white nominees. Wait, no, that can’t be right. Oh, scratch that- um, I’m hearing we’re not supposed to talk about race. Okay. Okay, let’s, uh…hm. What to talk about instead. Huh.

Welp.”

So we’re just gonna go ahead and run that back, huh?

Welp.

*denotes a movie I haven’t seen

Best Picture

Nominees: The Big Short*
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn*
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room*
Spotlight

Will win: The Big Short. Now I don’t think this is the safest bet, or even the second safest bet. The Revenant is the favorite, and it certainly fits with the Academy’s tendency to vote for movies that flatter them. That’s the current frontrunner, and it should surprise no one if it ends up dominating in all of its categories come Oscar night. Spotlight also wouldn’t be a surprise; it’s a well-loved, unassailable movie. If your viewing party has a pool, place your bets on one of those two.

But I kind of think the Oscar narrative will shake out differently this year. This is the most wide open Best Picture race in a long time. The Big Short had late momentum going into nomination morning, and it picked up all the major nominations (Picture, Director, Screenplay, Editing) that point to widespread support. The only major pre-Oscar award that it’s won was the Producers’ Guild Award, but there’s cracks in the other frontrunners’ veneers as well: The Revenant didn’t receive a Screenplay nomination, and Spotlight has only received pre-Oscars support from the acting branch of the industry.

I haven’t seen The Big Short, but all the buzz suggests that it’s truly innovative filmmaking, taking unique approaches to storytelling and combining them with director Adam McKay’s flair for comedy. If Short is actually as impressive as it sounds, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it rides Iñárritu fatigue all the way to the big award.

Should have been nominated: Inside Out. It reflects the large number of strong contenders that Inside Out didn’t make the cut. Past Pixar films have benefited from the expanded field (UpToy Story 3), and I’d argue Inside Out is on those movies’ level, if not a tier above.

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Best Directing

Nominees: The Revenant, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
The Big Short, Adam McKay*
Mad Max: Fury Road, George Miller
Spotlight, Tom McCarthy
Room, Lenny Abrahamson*

Will win: George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road. Let’s all take a second to appreciate that Adam McKay (director of AnchormanTalladega Nights, and Step Brothers) has been nominated for an Oscar- and that he might actually win. It’s not outside the realm of possibility. But the favorite is Iñárritu to repeat, since he won the Directors’ Guild award. I picked Miller here largely because I’ve deluded myself into thinking the Academy will want to recognize the incredible achievement that is Mad Max: Fury Road with more than just technical awards, but, in all honesty, I’m expecting to be completely wrong.

Should have been nominated: Ridley Scott, The Martian. It was a surprise when his name wasn’t on this list, and now that I’ve seen The Martian (Surprise! It’s really good!), I’m still surprised. It’s hard to make a thrilling, crowd-pleasing movie out of a story that has little to no action.

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Best Actor

Nominees: Bryan Cranston, Trumbo*
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs*
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl*

Will win: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant. I’m kind of annoyed that he’s going to win for this performance, since I don’t think I’d put this even in his top ten. But he undeniably deserves an Oscar, so I won’t complain.

Should have been nominated: Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation. I know he was only 13, and it’s hard to know how much skill is really involved when they’re that young versus how much the director coaxes out of them. But still! He carries that movie to great heights.

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Best Actress

Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Carol*
Brie Larson, Room*
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy*
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years*
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn*

Will win: Brie Larson, Room. I’ve honestly heard better things about her 8-year-old co-star, Jacob Tremblay, but this one appears to be a lock.

Should have been nominated: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road. Action heroes and heroines rarely get nominated for Oscars, but if Ripley was nominated, Furiosa surely deserves a nod.

CREED

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees: Christian Bale, The Big Short*
Tom Hardy, The Revenant
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed*

Will win: Sylvester Stallone, Creed. I’d be pretty pumped if Hardy was recognized for his brilliant turn in The Revenant, but the narrative of Stallone winning for an iconic role is hard to ignore.

Should have been nominated: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation. Having seen at least clips of all of these performances, it’s hard to argue that none of them belonged. But Elba is a force of nature in Beasts– I’d slot him in over Rylance or Ruffalo in a heartbeat.

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Best Supporting Actress

Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight*
Rooney Mara, Carol*
Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl*
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs*

Will win: Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl.

Should have been nominated: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina. I’m glad she was nominated for something, but it was the wrong movie. She is riveting to watch as a mysterious android in Ex Machina.

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Best Original Screenplay

Nominees: Bridge of Spies
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton*

Will win: Spotlight. This will be the only award Spotlight wins on Sunday. That’s a shame, because, after peaking early, it has somehow taken on a reputation as a movie that should have been on HBO. I don’t agree (no offense to HBO). It’s far more artfully considered than that TV-movie designation suggests.

Should have been nominated: Sicario. It’s received attention more for its look than its script, and that’s not a bad thing, considering how it looks. But it’s also a very subtly executed exercise in foreshadowing while withholding information until the very end, and that’s a screenplay strength more than anything else.

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Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees: The Big Short*
Brooklyn*
Carol*
The Martian
Room*

Will win: The Big Short. HOLY CRAP ADAM MCKAY IS GOING TO HAVE AN OSCAR. THIS IS AMAZING.

Should have been nominated: Paddington. I named one of my dogs after this movie largely because its screenplay was so impressive.

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Best Cinematography

Nominees: Carol*
The Hateful Eight*
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

Will win: The Revenant. I’d personally give it to Sicario, and that would mean Roger Deakins would win for the first time in his illustrious career (The Shawshank RedemptionFargoA Beautiful MindNo Country for Old MenSkyfallPrisoners) after THIRTEEN NOMINATIONS. Give this guy a freaking Oscar! …But Emmanuel Lubezki is going to win for The Revenant (and deservedly so). It will be his third win in a row, after winning the past two years for Gravity and Birdman, which has never happened before.

Should have been nominated: Bridge of Spies. Bridge of Spies might have actually been forgettable if it weren’t for the immortal Janusz Kaminski. But don’t feel bad, he already has 2 Oscars (for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan).

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Best Animated Feature

Nominees: Anomalisa*
Boy and the World*
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie*
When Marnie Was There*

Will win: Inside Out. This one’s pretty locked up.

Should have been nominated: The only other animated movie I saw this year was Minions, and no one in their right mind would think that movie should have been nominated.

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Best Documentary Feature

Nominees: Amy
Cartel Land
The Look of Silence
What Happened, Miss Simone?*
Winter on Fire

Will win: Amy. It tells the story of Amy Winehouse really well, but as a movie, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. I’d be much happier if The Look of Silence or Cartel Land won.

Should have been nominated: Going Clear. I wouldn’t necessarily put the Scientology doc in over any of the current nominees, but it would have been deserving.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Nominees: Embrace of the Serpent*
Mustang*
Son of Saul*
Theeb*
A War*

Will win: Son of Saul. I’ve heard amazing things about this movie.

Should have been nominated: Foreign language movies are funny, because they are submitted the year they’re released in their home country, not the U.S., so some of these were only recently released here or have yet to be. At any rate, I haven’t seen any of the foreign language films eligible for this year.

Academy Award Nomination Predictions

I don’t usually do this, because it’s a fool’s game to predict what the Academy is going to do. But I guess I decided it’s time to stop pretending I’m not a fool. Predictions are fun, and I like fun.

It feels like they say this every year, but this year’s Oscars genuinely feel like the most open race in years. No movie is ahead of the pack; no movie feels like a clear and obvious choice. Also, if it shakes out the way I predict, this may be the most diverse group of plots, genres, and target audiences among the nominees in a while. And variety makes everything better.

Best Picture

The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Carol
Creed
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Spotlight

Before Christmas, I didn’t really expect Bridge of SpiesMad Max: Fury Road, or The Martian to make the cut. I thought more awards-bait fare would keep them out, like RoomBrooklyn, or The Hateful Eight. But those movies have received less attention from critics and guilds alike, and the former three movies have gotten much more love. The outlier in this group, the movie that no one saw forcing its way into the conversation, is CreedCreed may not receive much attention in other categories, but the 5-to-10-nominee structure in this category means the most-loved movies make it in, and Creed is very well-loved. The favorites here are still Spotlight and Carol, though The Big Short has shown itself to have a surprising number of supporters in the industry.

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For your consideration: Inside Out. Before Creed was the critical and box-office darling it became, I assumed Inside Out would get its slot as the well-loved crowdpleaser. Animated movies almost never get nominated for Best Picture- only Beauty and the BeastUp, and Toy Story 3 have managed the feat. But Inside Out was one of the most imaginative movies of the year, and it packed an emotional punch. It deserves to be in this group.

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

This one’s almost written in stone. Michael B. Jordan or Johnny Depp could squeak through in Damon’s or Cranston’s place, but it’s unlikely.

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For your consideration: Abraham Attah, Beasts of No Nation. This group of performances is generally pretty weak. If the Academy was a little more adventurous with this category (as it has been in the past with Best Actress), they might have looked outside the awards bait for some independent gems. One such performance is Attah’s. He’s only a teenager, but he ages decades as a child soldier in Beasts.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

This is the most stacked Best Actress pool in a while. I’m most confident in Blanchett and Larson, but Jennifer Lawrence, Maggie Smith, and Helen Mirren from JoyThe Lady in the Van, and Woman in Gold could easily supplant the other three.

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For your consideration: Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road. The star of the most surprisingly feminist movie of 2015 deserves some love.

Best Supporting Actor

Christian Bale, The Big Short
Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

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For your consideration: Benicio del Toro, Sicario. He achieved a new level of menace as a Colombian assassin with a hidden agenda.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Helen Mirren, Trumbo
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

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For your consideration: Mya Taylor, Tangerine. For Tangerine, a movie filmed on an iPhone and made for far less money than the next cheapest movie mentioned in this post, Taylor stands out the most as the likeliest candidate to get a nomination. Kitana Kiki Rodriguez won me over eventually in the lead role, but Taylor is magnetic from the very start.

Best Directing

Todd Haynes, Carol
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Ridley Scott, The Martian

McCarthy is the only unsure thing in this bunch, since Spotlight is much more notable for its cast and its screenplay than any visual style. Maybe Spielberg takes his spot for Bridge of Spies, or Ryan Coogler pulls off the coup of all coups for Creed.

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For your consideration: Denis Villenueve, Sicario. It takes supreme control to maintain the modulated dread that permeates every frame of this movie.

Best Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies
Inside Out
Sicario
Spotlight
Trainwreck

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For your consideration: Ex Machina. Alex Garland’s twisted screenplay is both thought-provoking and engrossing.

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short
Carol
The Martian
Room
Steve Jobs

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For your consideration: Paddington. This a hill I’m willing to die on.

Cinematography

Bridge of Spies
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Sicario

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For your consideration: It Follows. David Robert Mitchell and his cinematographer, Mike Gioulakis, do things with symmetry and panning that make you forget you’re watching a low-budget horror movie.

The Last Five Years (of the Oscars)

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If you asked me why I care so much about the Oscars, why I watch every minute of the overlong broadcasts, why I spend so much time writing about them beforehand on a blog that few people follow, why I know so much about their history that I’ve won both the Oscar trivia game and the awards predictions game at the last two Oscar parties I went to (You could say I’m bragging, but is that really something to brag about? [YES IT’S COOL I PROMISE]), my answer probably wouldn’t satisfy you. I’d tell you the Academy Awards are the truest system of awarding the arts and sciences of making movies, because it’s the people in the industry awarding who they think was the best that year among their peers. But you’d know that’s not entirely how it works.

Every year, there are complaints about snubs and smear campaigns. There are people like Harvey Weinstein, who run “Honor this man” campaigns for their movies about historical figures (because of course a dead Alan Turing will be honored by Benedict Cumberbatch’s winning the Best Actor Oscar), or like Melissa Leo, who paid for full-page “For Your Consideration” ads out of her own pocket to campaign for her Supporting Actress turn in The Fighter, which she eventually won.

What’s funny about the Oscars, though, is that all the extraneous noise surrounding the ceremony is lost to history once the awards are handed out. Looking back at the history of the movies, everyday people will really just see who won, and they’ll draw their conclusions from the winners.

The Dark Knight

In this way, the Oscars function as a way for the filmmaking industry to tell its story to the future. When I first got into movies and started looking back at who won which award to see what movies I should watch, I learned (either directly or indirectly) what Hollywood valued about its own history.

The story the Academy has been trying to tell so far this decade is one of inclusivity. For the 2010 ceremony, the Academy changed their voting rules for their premiere statuette, the Best Picture award. Now, members could nominate more than five movies and up to ten, expanding the field above the previously sufficient five. The idea was to allow in more populist movies, like 2008’s snubbed The Dark Knight. The Academy was concerned about its image, since they had awarded more and more Oscars to movies that the wider population had never seen or, worse, heard of.

The rule change was an intriguing idea, but it hasn’t exactly worked. Sure, more populist movies have since been nominated for Best Picture, like Up, Inception, The Help, and American Sniper. But when people tune in to the ceremony, the movies they’ve heard of are still being passed over for the under-the-radar films. Mainstream movies are being nominated, but they’re not winning.

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In fact, the average domestic box office of the Best Picture winners this decade is $82.7 million. The average domestic box office for the Best Picture winners in the 2000s was $142.6 million. That’s a huge drop. Just for funsies, the number for the ‘90s was $185.8 million- so it’s been a steady drop. Those numbers include post-Oscars grosses, but they also include inflation, so the decrease in popularity might be even more precipitous than the numbers suggest.

All that is to say that history is going to look back on these last five years as faux-inclusive. The effort will be apparent, but the payoff won’t be. On top of the lack of popular Best Pictures, history will surely see the commonalities between the Best Picture winners, similarities that have garnered backlash from movie critics. Three of the five (The Artist, Argo, and Birdman) are movies about the movie industry, which is a trend that seems especially auspicious in light of there being zero in the Academy’s entire history before 2010. It may be a crude comparison to draw between the three movies, but the similarity is there, and the navel-gazing only adds to the Academy’s failed inclusivity.

Worse still, this year brought complaints of an overwhelmingly white nominee pool for the four performing Oscars. No people of color were nominated, which sounds damning, but is actually pretty rare for the Academy. People who aren’t white are generally represented among the performing nominees. But history will really just look at the winners, and only 10% of the winners this decade have been black. That’s not a terrible percentage, relative to the Academy’s larger history, but it’s not great either, and it looks a lot worse when you consider the awards were given to performances of a maid and a slave (Octavia Spencer for The Help at the 2012 ceremony and Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave at the 2014 ceremony).

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I’m not arguing with the quality of who the Academy has chosen as its image-bearers for the first half of the 2010s. I love all the Best Picture winners (the only one I haven’t seen is Birdman, and I’m really excited to see it), and most of the acting and directing winners have been well-deserved*. The problem is that the Academy, with the Best Picture rule change, has clearly given off the notion that they want to be more inclusive. But every award they’ve given out has painted a faux-inclusive picture. I still love following and watching the Oscars, but the story is getting harder to listen to.

*Interesting sidebar: Only three black directors have ever been nominated for directing (John Singleton for Boyz n the Hood, Lee Daniels for Precious, and Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave), but three of the five directing winners this decade have not been white. Ang Lee (for Life of Pi) is Taiwanese, and Alfonso Cuarón (for Gravity) and Alejandro González Iñárritu (for Birdman) are Mexican. The other two are from England and France, so no Americans have won Best Directing in the 2010s. It’s a nice counterpoint for a rough five year sample from the Academy.