So it’s Oscar nomination day, an annual event I always looked forward to back when I had a day job. The announcement comes super-early — 5:38 a.m. Pacific time, to be exact, all the better to take advantage of morning TV news programs — but everyone’s in a good mood at the Academy headquarters in Beverly Hills, jacked up on a potent combination of caffeine and adrenaline. Now that I’m a citizen of the world, I watch the nominations in my jammies from the comfort of my own home but I still set the alarm. I still care.
Last year, I cared a LOT. Like, I was outraged. This year, my reaction is a bit of a shrug. Nothing thrills me, nothing surprises me and — except for a few notable snubs — nothing shocks me. “The Revenant,” Alejandro Gonzalaz Inarritu’s artfully brutal revenge tale, leads everyone with 12 nominations. I fear it is the juggernaut following its big Golden Globes wins, and that cheering for a smaller, smarter movie like “Spotlight” is futile. It seems Inarritu and his frequent cinematographer, the brilliant Emmanuel Lubezki, will do it again, one year after “Birdman,” which I loved. “The Revenant,” by comparison, is technically awesome but it left me cold. (No pun intended.)
The most dismayingly predictable trend is the overwhelming homogeneity of the nominees. #OscarsSoWhite will, unfortunately, be a phenomenon once again this year. All 20 of the acting nominees are white, which hasn’t happened since … well, since last year. Hard to believe there’s no room for Michael B. Jordan, who was electrifying in “Creed,” or Idris Elba, who was chilling in “Beasts of No Nation.” Or Oscar Isaac in “Ex Machina.” Or Benicio Del Toro in “Sicario.” Maybe that’s a matter of studio campaigning — or lack thereof — although Jordan’s “Creed” co-star, Sylvester Stallone, was nominated and surely will win the supporting-actor prize for reprising his iconic role of Rocky Balboa.
It’s hard to believe there was little room for the excellent “Straight Outta Compton” aside from its original-screenplay nomination — and the screenplay isn’t even the best element of the film. The story of N.W.A. is a rather traditional music biopic which absolutely soars thanks to F. Gary Gray’s thrilling direction and powerful performances from its convincing, young cast. Someone asked me on Twitter last night whether I expected any big shockers among the nominations, and I suggested that “Straight Outta Compton” might get a best-picture nomination. Silly me.
Anyway, Chris Rock will have a field day with this when he hosts the Academy Awards on Feb. 28, and I cannot wait. He brought a much-needed edge when he hosted the ceremony back in 2005, and his biting brand of humor will be entirely necessary again this year.
The contenders for the top prize — eight films out of a possible 10 spots — are mostly your usual suspects, including “Bridge of Spies” and “The Big Short.” The inclusion of “Room,” which wrecked me, is a nice surprise, as is Lenny Abrahamson’s spot amid the best-director field. I am, of course, thrilled that “Mad Max: Fury Road” did so well, with 10 nominations total. It’s the best movie of the year, I say. But it would have been nice to see an “Inside Out,” or an “Ex Machina,” or a “Creed” among the bunch — something a little less safe and obvious than the latest impeccably made but innocuous Steven Spielberg movie. “Carol” is just devastatingly gorgeous but didn’t make it into the picture or director fields for the masterful Todd Haynes. (Those films did receive nominations elsewhere, however, so I’m welcome to quit bitching now.)
“Carol” earned expected nominations for the beautiful work from co-stars Cate Blanchett (in best actress) and Rooney Mara (in supporting actress). I’d argue that Mara has just as much of a lead role, as does Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl,” although she, too, received a nomination in the supporting category. But I suppose it’s the like year Jennifer Connelly won the supporting-actress Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind,” although she was completely Russell Crowe’s equal. It’s about strategy.
Also in the best-actress category, I’m giddy about the inclusion of the radiant Charlotte Rampling for “45 Years,” the first-ever nomination for the British veteran. I suspect Brie Larson in “Room” or Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn” will win instead, but any of those outcomes would be lovely.
Some other random thoughts:
–How is it possible that “The Martian” received seven nominations, including best picture and best actor for Matt Damon, but not one for Ridley Scott’s direction? Yes, there are only five spots, and so inevitably some of the best-picture directors are going to be excluded, but this omission seems really glaring. “The Martian” is a masterful mix of technology and tone, science-fiction and comedy. It’s massive in scope yet intimately detailed. And it didn’t direct itself.
— It was also a big surprise to see Aaron Sorkin left out of the screenplay category for his work on “Steve Jobs,” even though the actors tasked with delivering his densely-packed dialogue — Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet — did receive nominations today.
— As I mentioned earlier in discussing “The Revenant,” Lubezki once again received a nomination in a competitive cinematography field. He’ll probably win again — and deservedly so, given the arduousness of the shoot and his awe-inspiring use of natural light. But man, can the great Roger Deakins ever catch a break? If you’ve read my writing over the years, you know that Deakins is my hero. His inspired work on “Sicario” earned him his 13th nomination. He’ll win one of these years — but not this year.
— But you know what’s already a winner? “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Laugh now at how silly and tawdry it was, but for all of eternity it will be the Academy Award-nominated “Fifty Shades of Grey,” thanks to the original song “Earned It” by The Weeknd. The day after it tied for the most Razzie nominations, it’s now in the hunt for an Oscar.