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The Oscar Noms: La La Land of Plenty

Analyzing the arrival of this year's contenders

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Lonely at the top: Arrival earned eight Oscar nominations, but star Amy Adams was inexplicably overlooked (Photo: Paramount)
  • Lonely at the top: Arrival earned eight Oscar nominations, but star Amy Adams was inexplicably overlooked (Photo: Paramount)

(For sidebars on the year's best movies as chosen by Academy members, film critics and moviegoers, head to the bottom of the page.)

When the nominations for the 89th Academy Awards were recently announced, it was easy to imagine those snagging nods to take a cue from La La Land and break out in joyous song and dance. Those who were snubbed, however, probably felt more like those tortured true believers dotting the crucifix-covered landscape of Silence.

Here, then, are the highlights, low points and other notes of interest associated with this year's crop.

Highlights

• The ample nominations for Arrival and La La Land. Monsieur Oscar and I don't always see eye to eye, so it was gratifying that my two favorite films of the year were also the most recognized among this year's contenders. La La Land earned a staggering 14 nominations, tying the all-time record shared by 1950's All About Eve and 1997's Titanic. Arrival, meanwhile, nabbed eight nods, an amount matched by Moonlight, the most critically acclaimed film of 2016. The year's other critical darling, Manchester by the Sea, was next with six bids, a number also managed by Hacksaw Ridge and Lion.

• The diversity of the acting line-up. For the past two years, the Academy had to contend with the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, since none of the acting nominees were black. This year, the sheer amount of quality films centering on African-American characters couldn't be ignored, resulting in a record-setting six (out of 20) acting nods for black performers. The biggest category to benefit was Best Supporting Actress, where three of the five nominees are women of color.

Ava DuVernay’s 13th deservedly snagged a slot for Best Documentary Feature (Photo: Netflix)
  • Ava DuVernay‚Äôs 13th deservedly snagged a slot for Best Documentary Feature (Photo: Netflix)

13th for Best Documentary Feature. The #OscarsSoWhite blemish was at its most pronounced two years ago, when Selma cracked the Best Picture lineup but only managed one other nod (Best Original Song, which it won). While stars David Oyelowo and Carmen Ejogo were shunned, it was the omission of director Ava DuVernay that was most egregious. This year, however, DuVernay is repped by 13th, which picked up a Best Documentary Feature nomination. Directed, co-written and co-produced by DuVernay, this excellent nonfiction piece, which looks at the racial inequality that defines the U.S. prison system, is but one of three nominees in this category that examines the nation's race relations (the other two are O.J.: Made in America and I Am Not Your Negro).

• Michael Shannon, Best Supporting Actor for Nocturnal Animals. I was largely left cold by Tom Ford's bleak drama, but I responded favorably to the performance by Shannon as a detective more interested in meting out real justice rather than following the letter of the law. Shannon's only been Oscar-nominated once before (2008's Revolutionary Road), but he's delivered plenty of award-worthy turns in the ensuing years — most recently in 2015's 99 Homes, which earned him several citations from other groups but no Oscar nom. Strangely, Nocturnal Animals co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson received most of the buzz (and a Golden Globe) for his turn as a Trump supporter — excuse me, as a vicious redneck — but Academy members ultimately made the right call by going with Shannon.

• The Best Animated Feature line-up. Once again, the Academy has done an exemplary job of not simply allowing this category to be overrun by stateside mediocrities, as it had in earlier years (Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Shark Tale, etc.). Instead, it has continued to expand its vision by frequently nominating foreign and independent efforts. This year's no exception, with even Pixar's cookie-cutter entry Finding Dory being left out. Disney is rightly represented by Zootopia and Moana, but the exclusion of Finding Dory (as well as the likes of The Secret Life of Pets, The Angry Birds Movie and Trolls) allowed room for the utterly unique Kubo and the Two Strings (from the same outfit that made Coraline), Switzerland's My Life as a Zucchini, and the French-Japanese coproduction The Red Turtle.

Low Points

• No Best Actress nomination for Amy Adams in Arrival. Of all the snubs, this was the most shocking. Adams is the heart and soul of the heady science fiction epic, and, had she been nominated, she even stood a good chance of winning (so far, she's 0-for-5 with the Oscars). Instead, she was absurdly, inexplicably overlooked. La La Land's Emma Stone and Jackie's Natalie Portman absolutely deserve their nominations, and even if Elle doesn't represent Isabelle Huppert at her pinnacle, the French national treasure was overdue for a nomination. But Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins? Granted, it's her first solid performance in years, but it's not Top Five material. And Ruth Negga was fine in Loving — no better and no worse than co-star Joel Edgerton (who was not nominated) — though nowhere near the level of Adams.

• No Best Visual Effects nomination for Arrival. And while we're on the subject of the sci-fi hit, how on Earth did its unique visual effects not receive a nod? Along with the expected likes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Jungle Book and Doctor Strange and the unexpected bid for Kubo and the Two Strings (I believe this is the first time an animated film has been nominated for its special effects), the fifth slot went to Deepwater Horizon, which is basically just Mark Wahlberg dodging explosions, flames and falling debris. GTFO.

Mel Gibson earned a dubious Best Director nod for Hacksaw Ridge (Photo: Lionsgate)
  • Mel Gibson earned a dubious Best Director nod for Hacksaw Ridge (Photo: Lionsgate)

• Mel Gibson, Best Director for Hacksaw Ridge. As I've stated countless times, it's always imperative to separate the film from the filmmaker — I would never deny, say, Roman Polanski his Best Director nomination for Chinatown or Woody Allen his victories for Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. But in its rush to "forgive" the racist and sexist anti-Semite, Academy voters didn't bother to see if Gibson actually deserved the kudos they were eager to bestow upon him. Hacksaw Ridge is a decent film, but Gibson's work is hardly revelatory, and there were far better alternatives: Hell or High Water's David Mackenzie, Silence's Martin Scorsese or The Handmaiden's Chan-wook Park. Gibson stands no chance of winning (he already scored dubious Oscars for Braveheart), but in the year of Trump, I suppose anything's possible — if it happens, let's just hope he doesn't begin his acceptance speech with "I'd like to thank all the sugar tits in the Academy."

• No Best (Supporting) Actor nomination for Hugh Grant in Florence Foster Jenkins. The real star of the summer seriocomedy wasn't Meryl Streep but Hugh Grant, excellent as her supportive husband. But Grant was a lead in the film and the studio pushed him for supporting — consequently, he was trapped in the nebulous, no-nom zone between the two categories. Also overlooked was the delightful turn by Simon Helberg, who clearly was the supporting actor in the picture.

• No Best Original Song nomination for Sing Street. This delightful, low-key charmer was never going to be an awards season behemoth, but the dreamers among us were nevertheless hoping that Academy members would realize that La La Land wasn't the only live-action musical in 2016 and would respond with a nod for the irresistible track "Drive It Like You Stole It." Final tally: two Song noms for La La Land, zero for Sing Street.

Other Thoughts

• Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Sicario, No Country for Old Men) and composer Thomas Newman (American Beauty, WALL-E) were both 0-for-13 in wins vs. nominations, and while Deakins failed to land a nod this year for his typically excellent work on Hail, Caesar!, Newman faces his 14th at-bat for his original score for Passengers. He might pull out a win as the overdue veteran, since the competing composers are all first-time nominees. But considering the scores are the highly acclaimed ones from Jackie, Lion, Moonlight and — gulp — La La Land, Newman has a formidable challenge ahead.

• Meryl Streep earns her 20th nomination for Florence Foster Jenkins. Considering she set the record for most acting nods about seven nominations ago, she's merely padding her lead at this point.

• All composer John Williams generally has to do is hum a few bars on the set and he receives an Oscar nomination. That wasn't the case this year, as he was overlooked for his contribution to The BFG. Yet considering he already has a whopping 50 nominations under his belt, I doubt he'll be clamoring for a recount.

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda earned a Best Original Song nomination for the Moana tune "How Far I'll Go," and if he wins, he will be the youngest person ever to score the EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony). Only 12 other people have received all four, including Mel Brooks, Audrey Hepburn and John Gielgud. Miranda's Oscar competition comes from two La La Land tunes, a song co-written by Justin Timberlake, and a song co-written by Sting.

Jared Leto and his Oscar-nominated makeup in Suicide Squad (Photo: Warner Bros.)
  • Jared Leto and his Oscar-nominated makeup in Suicide Squad (Photo: Warner Bros.)

• It seems that the easiest way for a bad movie to score an Oscar nomination is to feature a noticeable amount of latex and mascara. Past nominees in the category of Best Makeup and Hairstyling include the Adam Sandler comedy Click, the Eddie Murphy comedy Norbit, the bloated biopic Hitchcock, the Western dud The Lone Ranger, and the Johnny Knoxville vehicle Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa. Now welcome to their ranks the sloppy superhero saga Suicide Squad. Just think: Nobody will ever be able to say "the Academy Award-nominated movie Touch of Evil" or "the Academy Award-nominated movie Modern Times." But, by God, we can all say "the Academy Award-nominated movie Suicide Squad."

OSCAR'S 9 BEST

These were the films nominated by the Academy for Best Picture.

1. La La Land (14 nominations)

2. Arrival (8)

3. Moonlight (8)

4. Hacksaw Ridge (6)

5. Lion (6)

6. Manchester by the Sea (6)

7. Fences (4)

8. Hell or High Water (4)

9. Hidden Figures (3)

CRITICS' 10 BEST

Based on a national sampling of 1,003 critics, these were the films that appeared the most frequently on 10 Best lists.

1. Moonlight

2. Manchester by the Sea

3. La La Land

4. Arrival

5. Hell or High Water

6. Toni Erdmann

7. Elle

8. The Handmaiden

9. The Lobster

10. Paterson

(Source: www.criticstop10.com)

BRUNSON'S 10 BEST

These were my picks for the year's best movies.

1. Arrival

2. La La Land

3. Zootopia

4. Manchester by the Sea

5. Sing Street

6. The Edge of Seventeen

7. Hell or High Water

8. Eye in the Sky

9. Fences

10. The Handmaiden

MOVIEGOERS' 10 BEST

These were the year's biggest moneymaking releases.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2. Finding Dory

3. Captain America: Civil War

4. The Secret Life of Pets

5. The Jungle Book

6. Deadpool

7. Zootopia

8. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

9. Suicide Squad

10. Sing

(Source: www.boxofficemojo.com)

...AND THE WORST

OK, we now have a sense of which films reigned as the biggest and/or best of 2016. But what about the worst? Glad you asked. Based on cumulative scores at Rotten Tomatoes and elsewhere, these were the year's biggest turkeys:

1. Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party

2. Dirty Grandpa

3. Zoolander No. 2

4. Fifty Shades of Black

5. Norm of the North

(Source: www.rottentomatoes.com, etc.)

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