Many think that the race for the Oscar begins at Cannes. That is actually not true. The race for an Oscar nomination begins at Cannes. That is Phase 1. It is a long, arduous process for the films involved, but those of us in this game absolutely love it. I am thrilled that we still have an entire month of Oscar season left, but this is always the peak for me. Usually, the surprises lessen, the journey becomes inevitable, and while I love Oscar night, the end always seems to come to soon, and the new beginning never seems to come soon enough. We now enter Phase 2. This is where the real contenders begin to shine. We learned a lot today about the Academy and their favorites, and we learned who is ahead and who is behind, as the guilds begin to decipher the puzzle next Sunday with SAG. Best Picture turned out exactly like I predicted it would, the first time I have actually gotten it right 100% since the whole ball game changed in 2009. These nine emerged about two weeks ago for me, and I think its the first time that there wasn't a complete jaw dropper, shocker, or obvious snub in this category in a long time. Deadpool was never going to happen, Florence Foster Jenkins was a pretender all along, and the 8 less nominations that BAFTA for Nocturnal Animals proves that there are still significant deficits between British and American voters. But not all Best Picture nominees are equal. Some like Fences, Hell or High Water and Hidden Figures did the maximum they could do. Moonlight hit every note it could, and while Lion failed to match its DGA nomination, it still proved it was a well-liked film across a lot of important branches. Hacksaw Ridge is getting the "over-performed" mentions by a lot of publications and blogs. Let's face it, except for the Mel Gibson nomination, most people predicted the rest of them. Yes Gibson getting in is a big deal, and it shows that Hollywood may have finally forgiven him for his transgressions. But Hacksaw still missed some categories, most notably Adapted Screenplay, so don't start predicting a major upset anytime soon. Manchester By the Sea did well, and I was thrilled that borderline Lucas Hedges made the cut. But after an Eddie and BAFTA nomination for Editing, missing in that category for Hell or High Water, was a snub for the film. It makes me think that this race is down to two, after being a trio all year: Moonlight, which I think will win the SAG Ensemble award, and the elephant in the room. This morning, La La Land tied the likes of All About Eve and Titanic, with a whopping 14 Oscar nominations. It became the first musical to breakthrough in Sound Editing, throwing that category for a loop. And here's the really important part. It could beat the longstanding 11 Oscars, only done so by three films: Ben-Hur, Titanic, and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It could easily win twelve, even without Actor, Screenplay or that second song nomination. It already broke the Golden Globe record, why not he Oscar record? Oscar night just got a lot more interesting.
In the acting categories there were some notable facts and figures. Two years of #OscarsSoWhite are now erased, with a plethora of minority actors reaping well-deserved nominations. It is the first time that three black actors are nominated in the same category: Supporting Actress (Davis, Spencer, and Harris). Speaking of Viola Davis, she becomes the first black actress to ever get three nominations. Whoopi Goldberg, and now Octavia Spencer have earned two. In terms of precursors, the four most notable snubs were Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Hugh Grant, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Taylor-Johnson becomes the first Golden Globe winner since the 1970's to not get an Oscar nomination. But voters did reward Michael Shannon, proving that those that did watch the film realized that he was simply much better. Adams and Blunt, despite BAFTA and SAG love can probably be explained by the competition in that category. Huppert wasn't a shock, but the inclusion of Ruth Negga was a real surprise, and a welcomed one. Hugh Grant is a bit of a head-scratcher. He has had some issues in the past, but this is the year of the Mel Gibson forgiveness, surely Grant can be forgiven too? Or is it simply that for some strange reason, over the years, these voters have just simply never really liked him. Whatever the reason, he is out.
There were plenty of other surprises along the way. Passengers managed two nominations, 13 Hours got some love from the Sound branches, Arrival missed out on visual effects while Kubo became the second animated film to score there, and Suicide Squad got that makeup nod. We can lament that bad movies like 13 Hours, Passengers, and Suicide Squad are Oscar nominated films, but I always respect the fact that the craft branches focus on the best in their field, and leave the subjective opinions of overall quality to the other categories. I loved the Mike Mills nod, the posthumous honor for the great August Wilson, and in general think that the screenplay categories nailed it this year (although with the Ruth Negga nod, I was hoping for a Jeff Nichols surprise, and Zootopia would have been nice as well).
There is still plenty of time to dig into these categories, and decipher the tea leaves that are given to us over the next 33 days. For now, let me end with a few thoughts. This new format for announcing the nominees was an atrocious, cheesy, and awful, and completely took the suspense and fun out of this morning, usually my favorite morning of the year. I understand the Academy needs to update and move forward, and I think the nominations for film like Moonlight and Arrival and others prove that the efforts to create a more diverse Academy in terms of gender, age, and race are paying off. But there is an old saying we have here in the South: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Or another favorite: "That dog don't hunt". Go back to the old way, with the journalists' live reactions, and recognize that some traditions don't need an update. Whew! That felt good to get that off my chest! Now back to the awards. Phase 1 is over. It was a hell of a ride. But today, the real race begins...