The Academy Awards have been overrun with controversy in recent years, particularly by the #OscarsSoWhite campaign that called out the disgraceful fact that there were no African-American nominees in the major acting categories in 2015 and 2016.
This year’s nominations were announced early Tuesday morning, and the choices reflected some seismic shifts in the film industry.
The biggest winner in the bunch had to be Jordan Peele, who capped off a hugely successful year by receiving the rare honor of double nominations in both writing and directing categories for his racially charged horror satire “Get Out.” His star, Daniel Kaluuya, was also nominated for Best Actor and the film scored a Best Picture nod.
The nominations for “Get Out” break the mold in several important ways. Oscar voters almost never reward horror films or comedies with any nominations, and shy away from touting most blockbusters (“Get Out” earned $175 million).
The fact that a smash-hit combination of those two little-respected genres could score four of the biggest nominations could be a reflection of the Motion Picture Academy’s efforts to draw in a younger, more diverse voter pool in response to the recent all-white nominations controversy.
Another big career boost came to Greta Gerwig, who matched Peele’s feat by earning writing and directing nominations for her highly personal coming-of-age comedy “Lady Bird.” Gerwig is just the fifth woman in Oscar history to be nominated for Best Director, which some might chalk up to the heightened attention given to women over the past three months amid the rampant sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood.
But the most refreshing thing about the groundbreaking nominations for both “Lady Bird” and “Get Out” is that these films aren’t heavy-handed and agenda-driven. They’re just greatly enjoyable movies driven by a strong artistic vision.
Another huge development came from the nods for two films that were produced by online streaming services, rather than traditional studios. The Netflix movie “Mudbound” scored four nominations, including Mary J. Blige as Best Supporting Actor — making her the first actor to get nominated from a streaming-service film. Blige was also nominated for Best Original Song. Its cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, became the first woman ever nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar.
Meanwhile, Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon scored a Best Original Screenplay nomination for their terrific romantic dramedy “The Big Sick.” The film came from streaming service Amazon Studios but received a much wider release in theaters than “Mudbound” (which only had a brief qualifying run on a couple of screens). It became the highest-grossing indie film of the year at $42.8 million and broke ground as Pakistan native Nanjiani became the first Middle Eastern actor to ever star in a hit film.
“Call Me By Your Name” scored nominations for Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture, but this gay romance about the affair between a teenage boy and a man in his mid-20s likely won’t repeat the success of last year’s gay-themed Best Picture winner “Moonlight.” Frankly, it’s surprising that this film even got nominated for such prime awards since its central relationship’s age dynamics have been off-putting to some.
That aspect is especially bad timing in the wake of Oscar favorite Kevin Spacey having his career destroyed when he was accused of trying to force himself on a teenage actor while in his mid-twenties. Spacey took it hard on the chin Tuesday as well, as Christopher Plummer was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in “All the Money in the World” for his work refilming Spacey’s scenes in rapid-fire fashion when director Ridley Scott wisely opted to cut him out of the picture.
Perhaps the most notable loser of all this year was Harvey Weinstein, who didn’t have a single film get nominated this year following his epic downfall amid widespread sexual assault and harassment allegations. Weinstein may be an evil and corrupt man, but he had impeccable tastes as a producer and waged ruthless campaigns for Oscars that paid off with more than 300 nominations for his films.
This year, his studio The Weinstein Company’s biggest shot came from the acclaimed thriller “Wind River,” which was had a strong theme about sexual assault rampant among voiceless Native American women. That film is the last movie ever released by TWC as it gets dismantled and finds its remaining catalog of films sold off to other studios.
Its producers also took the unprecedented step of waging and winning a legal battle to wrest the film from TWC’s control and independently finance its awards campaign to escape the taint of being associated with Weinstein. While the effort didn’t pay off, they took the moral high ground — something that Weinstein might contemplate yet likely never comprehend as he sits alone in disgrace on Oscar night.
For a full list of 2018 Oscar nominations, visit oscar.go.com. The Academy Awards will be aired on ABC on March 4.
Stars: Margot Robbie, Allison Janney, Sebastian Stan
Length: 121 minutes
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
This darkly comic biopic of disgraced US Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding explores both funny and harrowingly sad aspects of her childhood into adulthood, with Janney providing a wicked turn as Tonya’s abusive and foul-mouthed mother. A powerhouse movie that is turning into a huge sleeper hit and a force to be reckoned with at the Oscars. Grade: A
THE SHAPE OF WATER
Stars: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones
Length: 130 minutes
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro’s latest epic fantasy leads the Oscar race with 13 well-deserved nominations. Sally Hawkins delivers a uniquely silent performance as a meek mute woman who works as a janitor in an early-1960s government facility and falls for the mysterious creature that scientists are studying and about to kill. Achingly romantic, beautifully shot, and downright exciting, this is as close to perfect as movies get. Grade: B
Stars: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Length: 104 minutes
Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
After two years in apparent hiding, Liam Neeson is back doing what he does best: kicking ass in January movies that start the year off with a bang. His fourth collaboration with Serra continues the winning streak of “Unknown,” “Non-Stop” and “Run All Night” by adding Hitchcockian twists and atmospherics to the tale of a man asked to find a mysterious passenger on his commuter train for $100,000.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep
Length: 115 minutes
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
The story behind the decision by the Washington Post to print the infamous Pentagon Papers, a free-press battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, is recounted in occasionally rousing but often boring fashion in a movie that feels like homework more than entertainment. Grade: B
THE LAST SHOWMAN
Stars: Hugh Jackman, MIchelle Williams,
Length: 105 minutes
Directed by: Michael Gracey
Hugh Jackman uses his considerable charisma as he sings, dances and gives a terrific performance as legendary showman P.T. Barnum. The composers of “La La Land” deliver an impressive score blending hip hop and classical to create vibrant songs that drive a richly entertaining story. Efron and Williams are outstanding as well in the year’s best musical. Grade: A